This is the second story contained in the latest 3 in 1 Holding reprint by Stark House Press.
‘Basilda has been hired by Doctor Ferrier to educate his young daughter, Marty. It is a pleasure to get to know Marty, but her older sister Hope is another matter entirely. Hope is wilful and arrogant, and wants nothing to do with Basilda. And their young stepmother, Alma, is no help at all. But when Hope’s lover, Ramon, kills himself, she reluctantly must ask Basilda for help. Every part of Basilda’s upbringing rebels against being brought into Hope’s desperately selfish world. Should she show kindness where none has been shown in return—risk her very future—or fly back to the security she knows?’
Of the three stories in this reprint, I would say this is the weakest. It probably doesn’t help that the synopsis is a bit misleading, implying a mystery/crime narrative of sorts, which never materialises. This is a romance novella of the soap opera variety, with havoc-making Hope causing a great deal of heart ache for everyone, especially Basilda, before everything turns out alright at the end.
This tale is something of a gritty fairy tale, very raw Jane Austen and for that reason it may be of interest to non-mystery seeking readers. Usually in fiction the stepmother is a source of danger or at least acidic unpleasantness. It is a key part of the Cinderella formula. So I quite liked how Holding eschews this convention and opens her story from the stepmother’s point of view, which reveals the very lonely and unloved position she is in. Consequently, when Basilda does not get on with her, the reader does not automatically side with Basilda, knowing the stepmother better. Nevertheless, Holding is astute in not alienating the reader from Basilda, even if we query some of her later choices.
The plot was less to my liking but Holding still shows her ability to craft her characters with nuance.
Source: Review Copy (Stark House Press)