A sort of sequel to The Smile of the Stranger, but twice as long and about half as delightful; Aiken attempts a big, double-barreled saga here--absolutely the wrong format for her tart, airy storytelling style. In 1797, 16-year-old Fanny is married off to 48-year-old press-ganger Thomas Paget, an unspeakable brute who drags her with his three lumpy daughters to a country house (on loan from Thomas' cousin Juliana, star of Smile of the Stranger). . . and he proceeds to make her life totally miserable--loveless sex and cruel repression. And after Fanny bears the son that Thomas wants so much, he responds to her few attempts at freedom (chatting with kindly neighbor Lord Egremont and his lovable mistress) by forcing her to wear a straitjacket/chastity-belt. Will Fanny ever get free and get together with gentle, virile gardener Andrew? Will Thomas' evil past (he was responsible for the deaths of his first wife and his half-brother) catch up with him? These are perfectly fine questions, but they're answered, alas, very slowly. Why? Because Aiken alternates Fanny's chapters with the adventures of Thomas' illegitimate India-born cousin Scylla (beauteous palace governess for a Maharajah) and her brother Carloman (a dark poet): when the Maharajah's son stages a bloody coup, Scylla and Carloman rescue the Maharajah's youngest baby and escape, trekking their way towards England to take their rightful Paget family place. Not only is this mountain trek romantic adventure of the most routine sort (harems, beys, rape, escape, a crusty American guide who may be in love with Scylla); it also hurts Fanny's strong but small-scale story--interrupting it, stretching it out, weighing it down with pseudo-seriousness (Carloman and Fanny are linked by the cosmic image of the weeping ash). And when Carloman and Scylla finally do arrive at Fanny's unhappy house, Aiken must lay on too much implausible last-act melodrama (Thomas, Carloman, and Fanny's baby will all die) to clear the way for a neat, happy, two-couple ending. Often very entertaining, then--but the cheery, even slightly goofy Aiken brushwork (her 18th-century patois gets dippier all the time) is not at its best on such a big, busy canvas.