Countess Lisbette de Jonquiere is smuggled from Revolutionary France aboard a ship bound for England, by her family’s faithful retainer, Armand, for her safety. He’s also entrusted her with a package of important information to be delivered to a man in Bath. He assures her he will inform her mother where she is in England. Lisbette doubts whether Armand is telling her the truth, but she has no option but to obey. She has no one else to turn to in war-torn France.
Discovered as a stowaway in Dover, she flees to a village inn where she is tossed out into the street in the wee hours. Travelling alone at the tender age of 17 and obviously French, suspicions about her intentions in England are rampant. Distrust that Bettina, her deceased father’s pet nickname, has come to sow dissent in England is pervasive amongst the English.
She boards a coach bound for Bath, only to be evicted when a brash young woman, Kerra, boards and is deemed overly friendly with a male passenger. Bettina tries her best to part ways with Kerra, but soon discovers Kerra is rather persistent and insists on accompanying her to Bath.
An unpleasant surprise awaits Bettina in Bath. The man to whom she is to deliver the package no longer resides at the address given and residents give her short shrift. Adrift in a country where she does not know a soul, confused by customs and the language, Bettina is penniless and realizes she must find work to support herself. Her greatest obstacles to locating work are lack of references, her bedraggled appearance and general inability to perform any manual labor. Embroidery and court etiquette are not exactly marketable talents.
She meets up with Kerra again and is convinced to travel to Cornwall where Kerra’s sister, Maddie, owns an inn. Kerra is certain Maddie will find some type of work for Bettina at the Inn. The night before they leave, Bettina opens the package to discover blank sheaves of paper. She has been sent on a fool’s errand to England.
Bettina’s French aristocratic upbringing has not prepared her for interacting with the common people of England or scraping by to put food in her mouth.
“Roust up, Maddie wants you in the kitchen.”
Bettina blinked as Kerra shook her. She groaned and crawled from the bed’s brief comfort. Patting down the wrinkles in her dress, she stuffed her feet in her slippers and stumbled out the door.
“You can help in here,” Maddie said, her tone officious. “Ann’s our cook and kitchen helper, she’ll show what to do. When you be done, you can sweep the floors, strip the beds upstairs, then boil the laundry that’s piled here by the door.”
“All of that is needed to be finished today?” Bettina rubbed her face.
“You came to work, didn’t you?” A flicker of impatience crossed Maddie’s face. “There be a lot more than that. Oh, and a lodger vomited on the rug in number two. You’ll need to scrub it with some vinegar…..”
Bettina’s goal of earning enough money to travel to London, hopefully locate her mother amongst refugees and start a new life together seems a distant dream, but one she is committed to with all her heart. Meanwhile, she must keep her background secret to avoid unwanted trouble.
Gradually Bettina moves up to taking orders in the taproom and must learn to navigate the lower echelon of society. Unfortunately, some clientele overstep the boundaries of decorous behavior, but none so much as one lecher whose determination is limitless. On one occasion, he attempts to assault Bettina, who is rescued by the “nefarious Everett Camborne”.
Camborne is reputed to have strangled and buried his wife in the cellar of his Bronnmargh’s estate three years previously. His wife’s maid swore she heard Camborne threaten his wife. The maid then disappeared a few days after the magistrates investigated and found no conclusive evidence. Yet, rumors linger.
Desperate to earn extra money, Bettina advertises her services as a French language tutor. Camborne, whose motherless nephew has come to reside with him, retains her. Bettina delights in teaching, but is wary of her employer who seems equally distrustful of her.
Working at the inn slowly brings Bettina to the realization the majority of the population lives in poverty or near poverty, working hard to gather enough for clothes on the back and food in their stomachs. She begins to comprehend the origins of French Revolution, if not the horrific beast it has become. She gains a better understanding of her colleagues and begins to form real friendships with people she would never have encountered in her previous life.
The False Light is a historical romance novel that contains elements of riches to rags, covert secrets, mysterious strangers too interested in Bettina’s previous life, revelations, misunderstandings and misinterpretations, slow awakening of love, realization of true friendships and pursuit of dreams. Scott Lewis nicely leaves the ending of The False Light sufficiently open to naturally segue into the next installment.
I especially enjoyed Scott Lewis’s deliberate, yet authentically written, style of incorporating Bettina’s confusion of the English language, both usage and interpretation. It brought a deeper, intrinsic sense of Bettina’s experiences in a foreign country.
The False Light is a well-written novel, certain to appeal to historical romance readers who seek their romance fix with substance than fluff.
MY RATING: 3.5/5*
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