The Baron’s Wife
''The Baron's Wife" was on my reading list for quite a few years until it was reissued in 2017 and I finally had the chance to read it. I'm glad I gave it a try because I really enjoyed the story. This was my first Maggi Andersen book and definitely won't be my last!
"The Baron's Wife" is set at the turn of the century England. Our heroine, Laura is an educated woman who is also a staunch supporter and activist of the women's suffrage. After her twin sister Eliza's death, Laura is now the only child of her peer-of-the-realm parents. Though Lord Parr supports his daughter's cause, her mother is old-fashioned and finds it too bold and pointless as women, according to her, will never have the same freedom as men. Lady Parr continuously despairs of Laura, who refuses to marry and be bound to a man who may put an end to all her life's dream, her hard work.
One rainy day though, that changed when Laura met Nathaniel, Baron Lanyon and fell for him on spot. Nathaniel escorts her home and, in the process, meets her mother. Lady Parr, though, is too interested in Nathaniel. He had an old title and a good standing in the parliament. Plus he was handsome, young and rich, so she expected Laura to encourage his suit. Though Laura wasn't sure at first, soon to her surprise, it was apparent enough that Nathaniel was indeed interested in her! One thing led to another and after a short, whirlwind courtship, Laura finds herself as Lady Lanyon, forever bound to a man she knows little about.
Prior to her marriage, Laura knew Nathaniel was a widower. His first wife passed away a few years ago, and there were no children. Even though she thought married life suited her, Laura distinctly felt that Nathaniel became aloof right afterwards. He was very considerate of her, no doubt about it, but on certain matters, he'd grow quiet, erecting an invisible wall around himself.
Nathaniel had his reasons as we find from his own point of view. His first marriage to Amanda, an incomparable society beauty, was another whirlwind affair but it was purely based on physical attraction. Nothing like what he felt for Laura. But Amanda was never happy at Wolfram, Nathaniel's chief residence situated in Cornwall. He liked being there and spent most of the year in that faraway, centuries old abbey-turned-castle. But Wolfram was rather isolated from the mainland. Tides would drown the causeway leaving it totally detached from the main village. It was no place for flighty Amanda, who craved attention and excitement. And she used to seek those out in her own way as Nathaniel, to his utter dismay, discovered later.
Amanda was found dead while Nathaniel was away. Ever since then her death remained a mystery and the villagers in and around Wolfram had marked Nathaniel as the villain. And they weren't afraid of showing their contempt as Laura finds on the first day of her arrival, though she was totally unaware as to why. There were other reasons why Nathaniel was being targeted too. One of the members of his staff, a man named Theo Mallory, had spread vile rumors about him before he left the village. Nathaniel never liked the man and it was quite the good riddance when he left.
Burned and betrayed, Nathaniel had decided to stay off another wedding as long as possible. But when he saw Laura, he couldn't help but feel a visceral need to have her in his life. It was so strong that despite all the warnings in his head, he convinced her to marry him. Now Nathaniel is constantly aware that he's brought his new bride back to a place that troubled his own life. Inside, he was afraid of any harm coming to Laura, though he refused to confide in her so as to not alarm her about it. Nathaniel was also vulnerable in his thoughts; what if she leaves him knowing the dark history of Wolfram?
Laura had fallen in love with the mysterious and foggy Wolfram castle too, just as she had with her mysterious and aloof husband. But, within a few days of her arrival, Laura begins to notice strange things. The fact that it seemed like everyone was hiding something, and that first Lady Lanyon was never the center of any discussion. No one wanted to talk about her. She could find few information about her predecessor, but the pall her death cast over Wolfram somehow remained. Laura visited Amanda's grave and paid her tribute had hoped that she'd discover something soon to allay her curiosity. But even Nathaniel won't tell her anything beyond what's already out there.
From the beginning, the mystery surrounding Amanda's death was very palpable in the story. Much like Laura, you can't help but feel that there was something very wrong. I loved how the author set up the backdrop of the whole thing, then leading us to the final climax by one incident after another. She never threw out blatant clues, which is why you're forever guessing Amanda's fate. Was she murdered? If so, who could it possibly be? Or was it just a case of suicide?
When she met Theo Mallory, Laura felt an immediate dislike for him. Nathaniel returns home to face the man, who proves to be as elusive as ever. Laura begins to suspect that Mallory was deeply involved in the age-old business of piracy that has been plaguing the coast of Cornwall for centuries. Nathaniel already suspected as much but had no way of proving it. Things began rushing when Mallory was caught by the police, then, when Nathaniel's own suspicion about the whole thing turned out to be true. But when Mallory was also found murdered, and an attempt on Laura's life was made, both Laura and Nathaniel now must find out soon who, or what, is it that was plaguing Wolfram. Could the murderer be ever found to chase the dark shadow around Wolfram away?
In the middle of it all, one very important question remained. Since Nathaniel was pretty much determined to keep Laura at bay until things were sorted out, she begins having her doubts about his feelings. Laura begins wondering if Nathaniel was still in love with Amanda. If so, can she live with the fact that Nathaniel may never love her? In the end, who will it be? Her or Amanda's memory forever haunting their marriage?
Seriously, "The Baron's Wife" was a pretty good story! The tone of it was quite Gothic, and the writing excellent. Laura and Nathaniel's romance was a bit rushed for my liking, mostly because chemistry between them was kind of lukewarm thanks to Nathaniel's aloofness for the longest time in the story, but that didn't dampen my enjoyment nearly as much as I thought it may , a highly recommended and an enjoyable book.