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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Reluctant Heiress (Young Adult)



Released May 2009

www.penguin.com

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Although the cover was an enticing, I was rather reluctant to read this young adult novel. Usually I find the writing of this genre so mediocre and the subject matter so insipid I avoid it in favor of material aimed at a much younger audience. I find, on average, these picture books are more inspired if not downright clever and they are mercifully short.

Why would I want to read a 300-page novel about a 19-year-old little rich girl who is slumming by working "incognito" as a wardrobe mistress in a second-rate Viennese opera company?

The book sat for almost two months before I decided to give it a cursory glance. What happened next is somewhat inexplicable given what I have already written! After a few pages, Eva Ibbotson had me hooked (actually Princess Theresa-Maria of Pfaffenstein was the culprit)! Not only did I NOT set the book aside but also I zipped right through it and then passed it on to my wife! Now, that's really the biggest compliment I can pay an author since I seldom tell her, "You've got to read this!"

Set in the 1920s, the novel's heroine, Tessa for short, has slipped away to the country's capital to pursue her love of the arts and her belief that "birth" doesn't and shouldn't provide one with special privileges.

The flip side of the coin is a fabulously wealthy, businessman named Guy Farne, who is in Austria to help the government seek the funds it needs to keep the country afloat. With very little in common it would seem these two would never meet nor be attracted to one another. But, the old cliché about opposites attracting was never truer than in this story.

The real impediment to the fleeting meeting developing into a serious relationship is that both individuals have "significant others" in their lives. In Guy's case, it is a beautiful but shallow woman who is only interested in his great wealth. Although she doesn't really love him, Tessa's ardent admirer is a prince she has known since childhood whom it has always been assumed she would one day marry.

The glue that barely keeps Guy and Tessa "connected" in a cursory manner is the fact the millionaire has purchased the Pfaffenstein family castle for his fiancée.

Without writing down to her intended audience, Eva Ibbotson has created an old fashion romance that is not only literate but also retains the best elements of the love story with a fairytale ending.

Well plotted with a cast of quirky secondary characters, this is a pleasant diversion from the type of pseudo-reality fare that is too often the norm in this genre today. The dialogue is not punctuated with expletives nor do the characters' raging hormones obligate them to "hook up" before we reach the midway point of the story.

Romance novels are at the bottom of my list of favorite reading material, but I'd definitely give Eva Ibbotson another go-around if I come across one of her other novels.

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