All Things Beautiful by Cathy Maxwell was a hard book to put down. Although the overtones were dark and sinister, Maxwell does a beautiful job of teasing a reader by peeling layers off the characters and plot that makes one eager to turn the page to know more - of the characters, their motivations and their future actions.
It had always been impressed on Lady Julia Markham that no matter how badly her family behaved, their heritage, which boasts of Kings and Conquerors, is their saving grace. Heavily in debt, her family forces her to marry a wealthy tradesman in order to pay their gambling debts. Unfeeling of Julia's position, they - her father, mother and four brothers - openly admitted to selling her to the highest bidder, so far as one of the brothers threatening to sell her to a brothel if she did not agree to the marriage. With a family like that, who needs enemies? At the very beginning, one can't help but cheer her on and hope that the conscientious Julia resists turning to the "dark side." In fact, there was much to admire about Julia, specifically her resolve to make her marriage work despite Brader's attempts to ignore her existence. He only married her for her estate, after all.
Brader Wolf wasn't at all impressed with titles and lineage, having worked himself up from the lower classes. His knowledge of finance and commerce were well known that even the Prime Minister himself asks for his counsel. Although Brader is a hardened and sometimes unlikable man, he does have one salvation - a sweet little old lady named Nan whom he calls "Mother". Maxwell's use of Nan was to provide Julia with the "softer" side of Brader, and whereas others may find it contrived, this reviewer finds it subtle and well done.
As a couple, their pasts combined couldn't be any dreadful, but there were moments, although very few, when Julia's innocence provided comic relief. Sans sex, an intimate moment sticks to mind - their one dinner together is reminiscent of a modern day date. It was refreshing to see Brader and Julia get to know each other in a pleasant way besides the fights and forced revelations that is standard romance novel fare - and which also happens within the story.
Although Maxwell's later works are more familiar, it would be a severe oversight not to pick up All Things Beautiful.