Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart

I used to devour Mary Stewart books. For a few years I read them one after another, until their plots and characters blended in my mind into one intricate and misty gothic romance.

This poetic reference stuck in my head, though, the snippet from The Revenger's Tragedy that occurs to the heroine of this book as she approaches her new home in France:

Oh, think upon the pleasure of the palace:
Secured ease and state, the stirring meats,
Ready to move out of the dishes,
That e'en now quicken when they're eaten,
Banquets abroad by torch-light, musics, sports,
Bare-headed vassals that had ne'er the fortune
To keep on their own hats but let horns [wear] 'em,
Nine coaches waiting. Hurry, hurry, hurry!

And every once in a while some twist of phrase or coincidental sentence will invoke the chorus in my head again, "Nine coaches waiting. Hurry, hurry, hurry!"

So some years after my Mary Stewart years, I read somewhere that Nine Coaches Waiting is, in fact, Mary Stewart's Cinderella.

Well. You know what that means.

I simply had to pick it up and reread it. Although I consider myself much too snobby a reader to read romances (except for when I do), there is something about the gothic suspense of Stewart's writing that makes the romance all the more delicious. And if I'm honest--fairy tale retellings aren't really an escape from romantic writing, now are they?

So with that in mind, let us turn to this particular gothic romance. Cinderella is more of a motif here than a storyline. Linda Martin is an orphan who was brought up in France but was put into an English orphanage. Her longing and love for France engender the ticket to her return to France as a governess for a nine year old boy, Philippe. Amid the lush estate of Valmy and the Valmy family's secrets, she finds romance (of course) and a murderous plot (also of course) but, alone and friendless in a new position, will she be able to thwart the plot before it is too late?

I'll give you a clue: it's not a horror story.

This was fun to reread and refresh, and the Cinderella references were perfect for where I am now as a reader. Mary Stewart is delicious and I hope you'll at least try this one, if you never read another gothic romance in your life.

Here is an interesting blog post with illustration about the abridged version which appeared in Ladies Home Journal.

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