Edwards, Eve. The Other Countess. 352 p. Delacorte. 2011. Hardcover $17.99. ISBN 9780385740890.
In 1582 England, two young people with noble titles but no wealth find themselves irresistibly drawn together, yet their growing attraction is complicated by the fact that the young man must marry for money to restore his family's fortunes... which were ruined by the destitute girl's father.
This cozy historical novel is unabashedly a romance. It's not gimmicky, it's not edgy-- it delivers exactly what you sign up for when you open the pages: a love story for teens set against a richly detailed backdrop of Elizabethan England. Honestly, as an infrequent reader of historical fiction, I wasn't expecting to like this as much as I did, but I found myself completely enthralled and stayed up way past a sensible bedtime to read on as the characters faced one obstacle after another.
Eve Edwards skillfully brings 1580s England to life, depicting various levels of a very stratified society, from Queen Elizabeth's court to humble village life. The religious tensions of the time come into play, as do society's strict mores for young women.
A large cast of characters is introduced early on, which can be somewhat overwhelming. But each character is lively and multi-dimensional, with their own intriguing backstory and covert purposes, making the reader eager to read on and discover how their fates will end up entangled.
Through an omniscient third person narration, we shift between each of the main characters' perspectives, but we most often stay with the likable heroine, Ellie. She's realistic and easily relatable-- a well-rounded character who may be uncommonly well educated for a woman of her time, but is not above sneaking a peek at bare-chested boys (hee!). Many teen readers will empathize with her strained realtionship with her father who is the primary cause of her poverty and struggles in life. He means well, but it's like, "OMG my dad’s an ALCHEMIST and half the people we meet think he’s a nutcase, this is sooooo embarrassing." (Uh, only put that in Elizabethan diction.)
The love story is completely swoon-worthy-- there's just the right amount of tension between Ellie and her romantic interest, Will. I was utterly charmed by the banter between the two as their antagonism gradually leads to love. Just as Ellie is a well-developed character, Will is also multi-dimensional and very believable as an honorable young earl plagued with inner turmoil as he struggles between familial and patriotic duty and his own wishes.
My only complaint is that one of my favorite characters drops out of the narrative rather abruptly-- but I can't complain too much, because Edwards will be continuing her story in The Queen's Lady, expected to be published in Spring 2012. Yay! Or maybe I should say... huzzah!
The Other Countess is already available in the UK, and hits US bookstores on July 12. ARC for review was included in my swag bag from YA in Bloom-- thanks for the awesome read, guys!