At First Sight: Born in the gutter, Guy Farne worked and studied his way out Newcastle and into becoming a self made millionaire. His only ties to his old life are his name, the lack of shame he feels for his origins and the love he feels for his foster mother Martha
If not for his three employees - his secretary, his assistant and his driver - he hasn't opened his heart to anyone since he was 20 years old and studying in Vienna, where he feel in love with a rich young woman whose family refuses his first offer of marriage.
But in the ten years since - and on the verge of his return to Vienna, a few years after the end of World War I - her runs into this woman and decides he will lay the world at her feet. Once in Vienna, he starts to do this buy purchasing a castle where he will host a grand house party to re-introduce his fiancée into high society.
The once owner of the castle is a diminutive princess called Tessa who, faced with the fact that she can't support the castle, decides to give her aunts leave to sell it, hoping the money will serve to settle them in a comfortable style. Meanwhile, she tells her aunts she's 'studying music' in Vienna, but really she's the under wardrobe mistress as an opera house. No one there knows of her royal blood and she's happy leaving it at that, believing that music makes everyone equal and that it's an honor to slave away at the opera house, just to serve the music.
A series of casual encounters forges a sort of friendship between Guy and Tessa, he's fascinated by her guileless openness and is surprised by his need to protect her. Tessa just likes him and wants him to be happy. But the untold truths linger just below the surface until they can be hidden any longer.
Second Glance: I started The Reluctant Heiress thinking I would like it a lot, having read many of Eva Ibbotson's books - some I loved, some I hated - I had high hopes for this one, since the plot reminded me in a vague way of A Countess Below stairs - house party, snotty fiancée, hidden identity - but I ended so disappointed in this book.
It started so well! The first few chapters are all about Guy and I really felt like this was more his story, even though the book is titled after her, and they are lovely. A quick, to the point prose, describing the facts of his life up to his second arrival to Vienna and the purchase of the castle. Guy was so interesting and the descriptions of Vienna and the Austrian country side were lovely.
But then we meet Tessa, and I first I liked her but soon something began to irritate me about her. She's innocent and naive and almost saccharine (as, lets be frank, are most of Ibbotson's heroines), but she lacks all common sense and survivor instinct; she's happy to hide the fact she's a princess, almost ashamed of it, and she lets everyone in the opera house boss her around and walk all over her in the name of "art", she works for free too.
And that's another thing too, I only liked one out of the extensive cast of characters from the Opera House - Little Heidi, a dancer friend of Tessa's - half the time I couldn't even keep them straight and they all so openly took advantage of Tessa that it was shameful. The director of the company in particular was so annoying.
Guy I understood, even when I didn't agree with him, even when he refused to see the evident, I liked him and I understood him. But Tessa? She fell into the dreaded, most awful category a heroine can fall into: Too Stupid To Live.
Bottom Line: Read this book for Guy, for the descriptions of Vienna, for the light hearted YA-ish historical fiction story that Guy's part is. Skip it if you take Heroine-suckiness personal.