Does magic exist? It certainly does in Anne Walsh’s A Widow in Waiting, a tome of an adventure that takes the reader from the upper echelons of society in England to the magical but humble hillsides of Ireland. For Eleanor (Noreen) de Maine, the titular widow whose husband, Lord Alfred, is mysteriously killed by a highwayman, wearing her mourning gown and putting on the face of a bereft lady is a small price to pay for being freed from the clutches of her manipulative husband (literally, for his power was manipulation). For John (Séan) Marlowe, resident of Glenscar, Ireland, Alfred’s death in his village allows him to finally meet the woman of his dreams (literally, for his power is dreaming about real people’s lives, including Eleanor’s). Six months is the minimum amount of time that Eleanor and John must wait for their union to be socially acceptable, but a lot can happen in half a year, and their love is certainly put to the test. A Widow in Waiting is the story of these months and the obstacles they must overcome—the least of which is a timely letter from an erstwhile resident of Glenscar to Eleanor’s father—until the can finally be together. If you love grand, sweeping regency tales (although, technically speaking, the 1780 setting predates the Regency period), small-community vignettes, and a large cast of quirky characters, then this story is surely for you!
Story & Pacing: 9
I waddled back and forth between giving this a grade of 8 or 9. The plot is easy to follow and successfully executed, but at 400+ pages, I feel that some parts of the six-month waiting period could have been compressed and/or possibly omitted, particularly some of the follies of Nevan and Kieran. Walsh’s descriptions of everything—from settings and characters to societal expectations—make you feel like you are dab smack in the middle of Jane Austen’s England.
There are so many characters that I was definitely confused in the first 10 or so chapters, but once I resigned myself to understanding the major ones and that the minor ones would eventually become “obvious” to me, the long cast became bearable. In terms of the characters themselves, Eleanor is delightfully quick witted and sharp tongued; Annie is a sweet companion with a plethora of observances and one-liners that made me laugh out loud; and Cob is a loyal friend who observes more than he notes. You won’t find it difficult to find Walsh’s characters endearing.
Walsh’s descriptions of the village of Glenscar provide enough scope for the imagination that you could almost feel like you were living on the coast of Ireland, too. Walsh has chosen excellent locales for her story of latent and hidden magical powers that feed of the nature of the area. You’ll want visit Ireland to feel the magic, too!
Style & Writing: 9
Walsh’s writing is elegant. She strives to maintain a tone that one would expect from historical pieces; there are elements of Jane Austen and Philippa Gregory in her voice, which, as a fan of both writers, is high praise. Her sentences are varied, but her syntax remains more modern than Georgian, two qualities that make her writing very easy to digest. I really enjoyed learning a bit of Irish along the way, too!
Learnability & Teachability: 8
If you want to read a period piece or just enjoy richly developed book with a variety of themes and sub-plots, you’ll have not trouble getting into this one. It’s a long read, but for those who like to settle in for such a story, this one’s for you. There’s a list of characters, Irish words, and other juicy extras at the end of the novel. Much to my chagrin, I only did find them at the end of the story, but I think I would have found the information much more helpful at the beginning.
Geography and history of England and Ireland; British Isles vs. UK vs. Great Britain vs. Britain vs. England; Georgian time period, especially social etiquette of the time; gypsies, travellers, and the like.