The year is 1838, and seventeen-year-old Julia Elliston’s position has never been more fragile. Orphaned and unmarried in a time when women are legal property of their fathers, husbands, and guardians, she finds herself at the mercy of an anonymous guardian who plans to establish her as a servant in far-off Scotland.
With two months to devise a better plan, Julia’s first choice to marry her childhood sweetheart is denied. But when a titled dowager offers to introduce Julia into society, a realm of possibilities opens. However, treachery and deception are as much a part of Victorian society as titles and decorum, and Julia quickly discovers her present is deeply entangled with her mother’s mysterious past. Before she knows what’s happening, Julia finds herself a pawn in a deadly game between two of the country’s most powerful men. With no laws to protect her, she must unravel the secrets on her own. But sometimes truth is elusive and knowledge is deadly.
In a rain-sodden England, atheist Julia is about to have her rational world turned upside down. Ordered to Scotland by an anonymous guardian, Julia first takes an opportunity to visit childhood friend, Elizabeth, and her highly emotional mother. Julia’s reputation precedes her arrival, with the result that the locals are curious about the woman who rejects church teachings. She takes a gamble at agreeing to an eccentric bargain, believing anything is better than a possible life of servitude, but it isn’t long before she becomes the center of a power struggle between unknown forces that puts her life in danger.
Born of Persuasion is a gothic melodrama by debut author Jessica Dotta. It’s easy to spot the stylistic influences of Austin and Bronte (all of them) with a hint of Dickens. Elizabeth’s mother is reminiscent of the inimitable Mrs. Bennett, while the Dowager reminded me – perhaps somewhat strangely – of Miss Havisham. It is, however, the Bronte influence that shows itself the most. Mysterious Macy is a cross between Mr. Rochester and Heathcliff. The book has a first person narrative similar to Jane Eyre. Lastly, the fictional stately home of Eastbourne reminded me of a 17th century gothic manor house near Bronte country called East Riddlesden Hall. I lived near this area as a child and visited several times, often in the rain, which is probably why it came to mind so easily.
For all its dark beauty, however, Born of Persuasion is not without its flaws. None of the characters are likable, with the possible exception of Elizabeth who must put up with much. Few are honest in their motivations and no one is what they seem. Julia is both naïve and manipulating, innocent and wanton. The narrative contains numerous indications that this is written to a personal audience later in life, with frequent mentions of how certain acts were perceived by the general public once they became known. This is something that did frustrate me, although others might appreciate it.
Don’t expect a neat ending. This is the first part of the Price of Privilege trilogy. Even after the book is finished there are still many unanswered questions. In book two, Mark of Distinction, Julia must come to terms with all that has happened. A preview of this continuation is included in the back pages of Born of Persuasion. It’s scheduled for release in the summer of 2014.
Thank you to Tyndale House for my free copy of Born of Persuasion, which I received in exchange for an honest review.
Publisher: Tyndale House
Publication Date: 16 August 2013
Page Count: 448