Retro Friday: Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.
From the moment she first sets foot back in France, Linda Martin feels as if she's finally coming home. Even if she's not returning to her own home per say, she is returning in the role of governess to the quietly contained nine-year-old Count Philippe de Valmy. An orphan like Philippe, Linda quickly gains her footing with her new charge but it's the boy's family that keeps her on her toes. She never can quite find her balance in the face of the tremendous presence of his uncle Léon or the quiet ambivalence of his aunt. But it's the handsomely arrogant Raoul that keeps her "eggshell composure" permanently rattled. Yet when a series of accidents seem to point to an attempt on Philippe's life, Linda doesn't know what to believe or who to trust and time is running out.

Somewhat ashamedly I admit that Nine Coaches Waiting is my very first foray into the fabulous world of Mary Stewart. Which seems utterly absurd to me now that I've gone and read it because it reads like a laundry-list for All Things Michelle Adores. The language (can you get more romantic than French?), the setting (I swear I could see those twisting zigzag switchbacks leading up to the château), the frightening yet enigmatic Valmy family (Léon practically gave me the shivers with his puppet master-like remarks). And oh! The suspense! Told in Linda's first person narrative, I could not have been more caught up in her fears and triumphs and most importantly her unease concerning whom to trust.

It's like Jane Eyre and Rebecca (two of my all time favorite reads) went and had a gorgeously intelligent baby with a flair for the dramatic and a penchant for poetry. I don't think I've ever read a book that references another so subtly and appropriately. And the best part is that Linda even makes the Jane Eyre connection herself -- she is fully aware of the similarities but it only serves to heighten the aptness of the comparison, not lessen it. How does Ms. Stewart do that?!

Furthermore, Mary Stewart possess that rare quality in a writer of being able to not say something and have it mean a great deal. This may seem like a small thing, but I so appreciate an author who is willing to trust her readers to pick up the threads and make sense of their emotional import without beating the thought to death. It's a very quiet trait (and often very undervalued) but I think Ms. Stewart has it in spades.

Ms. Stewart certainly understands how to play upon this readers' emotions; despite its initial slow buildup, there was always yet another twist just around the corner to throw my heart back into overdrive. Truly when all's said and done Nine Coaches Waiting packs a bit of a wallop in the best way possible. I literally could not put it down and venture to say, if you're a Mary Stewart innocent like I was, I recommend you remedy the situation immediately.

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
The Allure of Books review
Angieville review
Book Harbinger review
Chachic's Book Nook review
She Reads Novels review

book source: purchased


Angiegirl said...

Sigh. I adore everything about this book. I knew you would, too. *hugs*

Charlotte said...

My mother handed me over to her Mary Stewarts when I was 14 or so...swoon! My first one was This Rough Magic, followed closely by The Moon Spinners, and they will always be my favorites.

Kristin Hanson said...

I adore Mary Stewart's early romantic novels. In the 70s she started writing Aurthurian novels that are just so... seventies fantasy. Nine Coaches is my very favorite of Stewart's - so happy you loved it, too.

Michelle said...

Angie - Thanks again for pointing me in the right direction. I'm already kicking myself for waiting so long!

Charlotte - Goodness! What I would have given for someone to have handed me these books when I was 14! I'm hurrying to catch up however...

Kristin - Those Aurthurian books are very high on my tbr list for sure. I see a major binge read in my future.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry I haven't visited your blog in a while! We've talked about Mary Stewart but this is the first time I've seen your review. So glad you loved it too. Nine Coaches Waiting was my first Mary Stewart as well (recommended by Angie) and it's still my favorite so far.

Unknown said...

I have never even heard of Mary Stewart. I must add he to my to-read list!