Friday 22 September 2023

The Merchant's Dilemma (The Meonbridge Chronicles) - Carolyn Hughes

1362. Winchester. Seven months ago, accused of bringing plague and death from Winchester, Bea Ward was hounded out of Meonbridge by her former friends and neighbours. Finding food and shelter where she could, she struggled to make her way back to Winchester again.

Yet, once she arrived, she wondered why she’d come.

For her former lover – the love of her life – Riccardo Marchaunt, had married a year ago. And she no longer had the strength to go back to her old life on the streets. Frail, destitute and homeless, she was reduced to begging. Then, in January, during a tumultuous and destructive storm, she found herself on Riccardo’s doorstep. She had no plan, beyond hoping he might help her, or at least provide a final resting place for her poor body.

When Bea awakes to find she’s lying in Riccardo’s bed once more, she’s thankful, thrilled, but mystified. But she soon learns that his wife died four months ago, along with their newborn son, and finds too that Riccardo loves her now as much as he ever did, and wants to make her his wife. But can he? And, even if he can, could she ever really be a proper merchant’s wife?

Riccardo could not have been more relieved to find Bea still alive, when he thought he had lost her forever. She had been close to death, but is now recovering her health. He adores her and wants her to be his wife. But how? His father would forbid such an “unfitting” match, on pain of denying him his inheritance. And what would his fellow merchants think of it? And their haughty wives?

Yet, Riccardo is determined that Bea will be his wife. He has to find a solution to his dilemma… With the help of his beloved mother, Emilia, and her close friend, Cecily, he hatches a plan to make it happen.

But even the best laid plans sometimes go awry. And the path of love never did run smooth…

What did I think?

I'm a huge fan of The Meonbridge Chronicles series so I was delighted to hear that Carolyn Hughes had written a companion novel to pick up Riccardo and Bea's story from Children's Fate.  I read Children's Fate in January 2021, over two and a half years ago, but I still fondly remembered Bea and Riccardo and easily picked up their story again.  This perhaps goes some way to tell you how good a writer Carolyn Hughes is - her stories are immersive and the characters stay with you.

I felt really sorry for Bea as the life she has dreamed of is so close, yet so far.  Riccardo is the love of Bea's life and the feeling is mutual but Bea's shady past prevents her from being accepted as Riccardo's wife.  Riccardo is doing everything he can to make Bea happy and he just asks for a little patience from her to wait until the time is right, but patience is not one of Bea's virtues.

Bea really grows up in this story, although she still shows some of her fire when riled.  I love the relationship she forges with Riccardo's mother and her friend Cecily.  It's an ambitious plan to pass off Bea as a lady and it's an often amusing and always entertaining storyline.  It's a lovely story from start to finish.

The Merchant's Dilemma is completely engrossing and incredibly entertaining.  I absolutely loved this wonderful companion novel; it's so beautifully written that it can be read as a standalone and I think it will definitely give any readers new to the series at this stage the incentive to pick up the previous novels.  Carolyn Hughes writes wonderfully vivid and immersive historical fiction and I highly recommend the whole series.

I received a digital ARC from the author and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

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