There are slow burn books and then there is this one where nothing of importance happens for a good 70 percent of the book and then you just have an ineffectual heroine through most of the story who somehow saves herself in the end by talking. Definitely not one of Holt's best. With a hero that I was rooting against and then the setting moving to Australia, this book just had too much that in the end didn't work for it.
"The Pride of the Peacock" follows Opal Jessica Clavering (known as Jessica) as she slowly unravels her personal history when one of her neighbors she has been forbidden to talk to, Ben Henniker who somehow ended up purchasing her family's ancestral home and land leaving her family living in a small home and much impoverished. When Ben pressures Jessica into marrying his son in order for her to restore her family's home to them and also give him grandchildren, she agrees to the deal though she doesn't care for Josslyn Madden (otherwise known as Peacock or Joss by Jessica).
Jessica is self-absorbed I thought. She finds out that Ben had a connection to her family and to someone else in her family that she never knew about. He seems obsessed with Jessica and Jessica just goes, well Ben loves me. I don't know. It was vaguely creepy to me. Also the way that Jessica talks to her mother I can't see happening and things going well for her. This book is supposed to take place in the 1800s and the way that Jessica acts at times is too modern. I did like how she stood up for her sister and pushed her brother to marry though. I didn't like Jessica's relationship with Joss at all. He taunts her and keeps pushing her for things she doesn't want to give and frankly I don't blame her. There is nothing redeeming about his character in this book.
Honestly, I didn't much care for any man that is discussed in this book. As I already said, Ben is creepy and obsessed and I loathed how he ends up in the end forcing Jessica to go along with his determination to see her married to Joss. Joss is a philandering ass and treats Jessica terribly through most of the book until he doesn't. I think we are supposed to see him a changed man, but I didn't.
The other characters we meet when Jessica and Joss get to Australia feel very one dimensional.
The plot was not that great. We hear about the Green Flash opal being stolen from Ben decades earlier, and then find out it wasn't stolen, but then it gets stolen again. And of course there's a supposed curse linked to the opal. We do eventually get a murder but it was very confusing when you find out the why behind it. It didn't help that the villain reveal was so anti-climatic and didn't make a lot of sense (at least to me).
The writing was so-so. Some things I wish had been discussed more and not glossed over. I know this book is written in the Victorian era, I have a really hard time with the fact that both Jessica and Joss are "bastards" and nothing was said by the community at large about it. I guess in Australia (where the story moves) it didn't really matter, but I am shocked that no one said anything in the area where Jessica was born. Especially since people had to know about it. I thought the whole book was so repetitive after a while though. We had to hear about opals, peacocks, and the Green Flash throughout.
The setting of this book I thought should have been a later period in time. I also didn't feel like the book had enough of the Gothic elements that I enjoy. I mean we had a murder, and I guess a curse with that stupid opal, and even some madness in the end. I just wish that the love/romance side had been better and we had actually had a haunted home or something else.