Reviewed by Donna Meredith
Lynn Braxton’s debut novel, Lady of the House, is a sweeping period romance certain to sweep you off your feet. The story is set in the early 1800s in Charleston, South Carolina, and New Orleans—both cities known for their history, southern culture, and class consciousness.
Braxton, the penname of Panhandle resident Linda Sturgeon, retired from Florida State University. She is a member of the Wednesday Night writers group, Tallahassee Writers Association, Florida Writers Association, and Romance Writers of America.
At the novel’s center stands Lily Perrault, an orphan raised in a convent. But it turns out Lily’s mother was actually alive all those years the girl spent in the orphanage. When Kate Perrault dies, Lily learns her notorious mother owned a magnificent gaming palace, Swan House. Her will requires Lily to reside there if she is to inherit her mother’s fortune. The humble, moral Lily has no intention of mingling with the patrons of Swan House—until she discovers the façade of the gambling palace hides a thriving Underground Railroad station.
Suspense swells as plantation owners determine to uncover the identity of “the Shepherd” who is spiriting slaves away in the night. The worst of the slave owners is Victor Eden of Eden’s Gate Plantation, operated by an equally despicable overseer, Grier Taylor. The cruelty of these men contrasts with the bravery and kindness of those in charge of Swan House. The novel is rich with irony as upper class citizens behave with far less decency than those they scorn as less worthy.
Romance flares as the young Doctor Paul DuPre encounters Lily in the street dressed in the threadbare clothes she wore at the convent. He is immediately enchanted, but when he encounters her attired in lavish silks as new mistress of Swan House, he is furious that she has deceived him. (The novel’s cover presents an enchanting rendition of these two versions of Lily.) Years earlier, Paul’s father was found dead in Kate Perrault’s house and the DuPre family never recovered from the embarrassment and stain on their reputation. So now we have the added suspense of wondering how Paul and Lily will overcome this scandalous background to fulfill their obvious attraction.
A parallel romance occurs between Paul’s mother, Addie, and an elegant man from New Orleans, Etienne Cruz. Misunderstandings and shame also force them apart.
When an epidemic of yellow fever claims the lives of many in the city, Lily proves her mettle by using nursing skills learned at the convent to care for those stricken. But when the epidemic is over, will the snooty Charleston socialites forget the lives owed to Lily’s care? Will she ever overcome the prejudices attached to her infamous mother?
Lady of the House provides a full portrait of Charleston families with their romances and heartbreaks, their acts of deception, betrayal and redemption. Yet the emotional heart of the novel remains with Lily and her yearning to learn who her father is and to understand how her mother could have abandoned her.
To help readers keep the numerous families straight, Braxton employs a device often used in such books: a list of people and their places in the opening pages. Told in third person, the novel frequently shifts perspectives from one character to another.
Braxton delivers a satisfying, old-fashioned story, one rich in well-researched historical details in two of the South’s most cherished locales. Whether Lily is surrounded by orphans, whores, or socialites, she behaves with unwavering class and compassion. You’ll cheer her on all the way to the final page.
Since the cover indicates this is Book One, we can expect another novel in the “Eden’s Gate” series before long. More suspense: which characters will Braxton develop in Book Two?
Click here to purchase this book: