The Boundary Stone
Series- The Stockbridge Series # 1
by Gail Avery Halverson
Genre- Historical Fiction/Romance
Bound since childhood to an arranged marriage with the restless and irresponsible heir of Houghton Hall, Viscount Miles Houghton; Lady Catherine Abbott, now grown, finds herself torn between duty to her family and her smoldering ambitions. Possessed of a nimble, curious mind, a love of science and the natural world, and a singular talent for illustration, Catherine desperately longs to accomplish something before she resigns herself to a loveless marriage and the idle, aristocratic whirl of parties and social gatherings within the confines of the palatial Houghton Hall.
Banished before his final year of medical training for pushing harder on the boundaries of scientific knowledge than any student at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, the mysterious and driven Simon McKensie has blurred the lines between research and criminality and must now choose between exile to the rural country village of Wells, or the hangman’s noose.
When the terrifying Great Plague of 1665 spreads from London to Wells, the town’s very existence is threatened and Catherine must confront her fears, her place in the world – and the burning passions she has long held inside.
Catherine pulled the ribbon, lifted the lid and looked inside. She caught her breath. Catherine reached deep into the box and carefully lifted out the most dazzling ball gown she had ever seen. The heavy, shimmering fabric felt cool to the touch. She could not resist the urge to hold it to her cheek. The watered silk taffeta crinkled in her hands as she held it up to the light playing through the window.
“Oh, Father!” she breathed. “It is the most exquisite gown I’ve ever seen.”
It was an iridescent, pale pink and burgundy confection of a frock, with a plunging, rounded neckline edged in a small rufflet. The sleeves were cut just above the wrist and finished with embellished lace ruffles that would hang to her knees. The fitted bodice was dainty and corseted; and the skirts were heavily gathered with layer upon layer of silken slips under the shimmering taffeta overskirt. She was awestruck by the beauty of the gown. Lord Abbott smiled and thought not for the first time what a lovely young woman his daughter was becoming.
★✩★✩ 4 – Step Outside the Box – Stars ✩★✩★
~this review MAY CONTAIN minor spoilers-
Catherine leaned against the jamb, and stared up to the vast, starry sky in complete wonderment at the inexplicable order of the universe. What possible manner of sense does this suffering make?
Many who know me, or have read my reviews before, know that I generally am a fan of down and dirty romances – the sexier, the filthier the better. But what most people don't know is that I'm a closet historical romance addict. I don't get to read them often enough but when I do, I thrill in the feeling of being lost in another time. What made this one different from every other one I've read before was, it wasn't all hearts and roses, fancy dresses and parties – it was about two people who viewed things very differently from most of their time and a plague that sweeps through England in 1665, and how it changed the way everyone lived, focused mainly in the town of Wells. Catherine and Simon were fascinating, I LOVED getting to know them and seeing how their minds worked. Miles I could have done without, though I understood his purpose – he was the example of how most of the titled people of their time thought, acted, and believed. He would have done nothing but snuff out the light, the inquisitiveness, the thirst for knowledge that lived in Catherine, and that thought alone just saddens me. Her Aunt was even worse. It took a long, long time for our couple to find their way to each other, but with everything else going on, and the fact that Catherine was betrothed since like birth, rushing things wouldn't have made sense. The POV jumped around between multiple characters which definitely kept things interesting and helped to see the story from many different angles. The ending was absolutely perfect. There were a few times where things got just a little too technical for my tastes, but if you like historical romances as much as I do, and enjoy a book that challenges the way you look at things, then this one will definitely do the job.
Whatever did peerage and titles mean anymore in the face of the terrifying and cruel ravages of the plague? Peerage and titles mean absolutely nothing for the vicious pestilence knows no rank.
** Character Bios **
Catherine is one of my favorite characters, ever. To be honest, she is a lot like me (minus the great cheekbones and the beautiful figure…), or, more accurately, she is the me I would really like to be. Catherine has coppery-red hair and blue-gray eyes. She is slender, is probably a whole lot smarter than I, and is possessed of the quiet, unshakeable confidence that if there is something she really wants to do, she will somehow figure out how to do it. She is naturally curious, and has a great intelligence, accessing equally both the left and right sides of her brain to see all sides of a problem. She is able to use that intelligence to reason through the problem, rather than reacting through emotion. I admire that ability in her. Catherine is adventurous and easily bored. Spending time doing unchallenging tasks leaves her restless and needing to stretch both her physical and intellectual self. She much prefers to be outside, exploring the natural world or reading a book to learn something new, rather than gossiping with other girls in the village about the latest party, the newest fashions or the local boys.
Catherine is a respectful, dutiful daughter, and is deeply devoted to her family. Because of that devotion - and the customs of the time - she will marry the man her father and aunt have chosen for her, but she consents to marry him mostly because no one else has captured her imagination. Catherine knows her own mind and trusts her instincts because she was raised by a father who has absolute faith in her intelligence and abilities. Only her devotion to her father and family can persuade Catherine to act against those instincts.
Catherine has a passion for nature in all its forms, from the vast starry skies above to the tiniest markings on the delicate butterflies she finds in the woodlands surrounding the Abbey’s estate. She is a talented illustrator, and her unusually attentive observational skills lend themselves well to her exquisite drawings. She is also extremely loyal, and believes that the character of a person, be they servant or nobility, is far more important than any title they may possess.
Most important, unlike her aunt, and most of the girls she was raised with in the village, Catherine has an unquenchable desire to accomplish something for herself. She longs to be more than just a rich man’s wife, and Catherine possesses the sheer determination to make it happen when the opportunity presents itself. That determination sets the course for the unexpected turn her life takes and, ultimately, the happiness she finds.
Simon is the product of a hard-scrabble, lonely life in the rocky fields just below the border of Scotland. Orphaned and left to raise his younger brothers and sisters, Simon spent his days behind a plow and his nights reading by candlelight, desperate to learn all he could from the books a local priest lent to him. Like Catherine, Simon is possessed of a great intelligence and a natural curiosity, and his lonely, difficult past haunts his days and nights, forever pushing him to his limits of scientific discovery and inquiry. He has no tolerance for fools, though with the sick or truly needy, he has endless patience and compassion. So entirely consumed by his medical research and willing to blur the lines between right and wrong in order to to understand the human body, Simon has neither the time nor the interest in socializing - which is fine by him, since he is usually confused, and truth be told, usually irritated, by the opposite sex. Well over six feet tall, and very muscular from his endless work on the farm, Simon’s sheer masculinity is enhanced by soft waves of straw-blond hair and a nose so gloriously straight one could draw a line from bridge to tip and never once waver.
Simon is not particular in his likes and dislikes, though he does desire a simple order to his life. He does not draw distinctions between rich and poor. He does not instantly assume the rich are evil and the poor are noble, rather, he tries to look at a person’s character and draws his conclusions from there. Though Simon is from extremely humble beginnings and, due to his research, still scrapes a living, he does admire the finer things in life that the Lord Mayor and Sir Abbott have attained. While Simon does not make it a priority to strive for a more luxurious lifestyle, he does not condemn wealth, and neither is he intimidated by it.
The kindest of men who simply tries to do right by every person he meets. Reared by a very strict but fair father, Sir Abbott well knows right from wrong in his own heart. Unlike others of his noble class, he is neither impressed by, nor conspicuous with his inherited wealth, but rather feels the heavy weight of responsibility that comes with it. He employs and supports a large household staff at the Abbey, and more still at the London mansion. He spearheads and invests in community projects to support the villagers in both Wells and Stockbridge. As the director of the British East India Company in London, Sir Abbott tries to chart a course for the company based first on compassion, then fortune. He is especially kind to the village children, having waited so long for his own. A lonely bachelor for nearly 40 years, Sir Abbott’s life was completely upended when he met the young, beautiful and very intelligent Tamesine. When Tamesine died giving birth to Charles, Sir Abbott, along with his sister, Viola, was left to raise young Catherine and the infant Charles. Because of his unshakeable faith in their intelligence and wits, Sir Abbott believed in educating both his children regardless of their sex, which in turn leads them to accomplishments far beyond what is normally expected from the children of other wealthy aristocrats.
Spoiled and entitled, Miles is the epitome of the wealthy aristocrat’s son. Raised without intellectual or professional expectations other than to continue the whirl of parties and social gatherings that his father, the Earl of Houghton, holds so dear, Miles has been sheltered and protected from any sort of responsibility in his young life. Restless and easily bored, he has ignored his studies in Paris and has been easily tempted to a vice-driven life. Fortunately, for Catherine, he does have an equal number of good qualities that temper the bad. Miles is lean and fit, and strikingly handsome, with mischievous dimples and an almost feminine quality to the chiseled bone-structure of his face. He has a quick wit and his humor can disarm nearly any difficult situation. Almost.
Sister to Sir Abbott, Viola has never married and has spent these many years helping Sir Abbott raise Catherine and Charles after the death of their mother. Viola holds a deeply-held, corrosive bitterness burning inside that over time has taken a toll on the soft beauty of her youth. For a spinster, Viola has a multitude of opinions about raising children, mostly that they should be banished to the nursery when young, and that education is quite wasted on girls. Unbeknownst to Sir Abbott, Viola has engineered the match between Catherine and Miles, and while Sir Abbott is not entirely sure about the marriage or how it even occurred, Viola sees it as the vindicating social triumph of her life. She will stop at nothing to ensure the marriage takes place.
LORD MAYOR HARDWICKE:
Pompous comic foil to the intellectually serious Simon, who has been sent to Wells to be the Lord Mayor’s personal physician. The mayor deeply resents the intrusive presence of Simon in his otherwise carefree life, vastly preferring bountiful food, bountiful wine, and bountiful women. And yet…
The Lord Mayor functions mostly as the ceremonial head to the village of Wells, all the while heartily enjoying the benefits of his elevated status, but when the plague arrives in Wells, he is fully capable of taking charge - and finds his life completely upended in the process. The Lord Mayor savors the finer things in life, much preferring a fine dram of whiskey or trip to Saville Row to purchase the latest in fashion to balancing his accounts and living sensibly.
GAIL HALVERSON is the playwright and composer of musical plays that have been performed for over 250,000 children since 2004. Writing for both theater and television, she holds a degree in English Literature and Communications from the University of California, Davis; and is currently at work on a television pilot for Double Trouble Productions, Inc. She lives in Northern California with her husband and son. The Boundary Stone is her first novel.