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Regency Reviews - Regencies rated Excellent


The Sandalwood Fan
by
Diana Brown

St. Martin's, 1983
ISBN: 0-312-69909-3

Reviewed 5/7/01

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Diana Brown

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The Arts
&
Politics & Social Issues

The Sandalwood Fan

by Diana Brown


Rating: excellent

    When Charles, Lord Mortimer, first comes to London he is an impoverished owner of an inferior estate whom no matchmaking mama would consider for her daughter. He falls in love with a beauty who laughs at his proposal. Heartbroken when she chooses to marry a wealthy baronet instead, he scrapes together enough money to buy a commission and heads for the Peninsula hoping to be killed. Instead, he becomes a hero and returns to England with newfound fame and fortune that wins him the admiration of all, including the lady who had jilted him. Despite his misgivings, Mortimer is drawn into an affair with her. But one day, en route through Hyde Park to an assignation, he happens upon Penelope Bransom defending a girl from her abusive father. Mortimer is intrigued by Penelope's determination and by the gentler side of her that is revealed by the botanical painting she had been working on before the fracas. He accompanies her on the hour-long walk to her door, and their paths cross again throughout the Season.

    Penelope Bransom is the widow of a man whom everyone believes she loved deeply and still mourns. In truth, she despised him for his cruelty in the marriage bed and his mockery of her failure to produce an heir. She has accompanied her younger sister to London for a Season to spare the girl the attentions of her late husband's equally unpleasant nephew. Penelope herself has determined not to remarry but she is drawn to Mortimer, and after a fateful encounter at a roadside inn, she realizes that love and passion may be possible for her after all. But a series of unfortunate occurrences threaten to keep the lovers apart.

    This is a fine portrayal of complex characters and intense emotions. Mortimer's pain at his first love's betrayal makes him hesitant to risk his heart again and magnifies his reaction when Penelope refuses his proposal. Penelope's oppression by her cruel husband has damaged her but has not completely crushed her spirit. Her love of art was her mainstay through difficult times: "She achieved her utmost serenity in interpreting nature" ... "Thoughts she was unable to express to anyone became expressed in the flamboyance of the red oriental poppy, in the serene blue of the forget-me-not."

    Diana Brown is a highly skilled writer whose prose shines whether she is describing a character's emotions, the beauty of the natural world, or the glitter of London society. She brings the Regency period to life in novel ways, showing the reader a scientific demonstration by Sir Humphry Davy, a garden fete featuring tableaux, and even the text of a corset advertisement. She also paints a broader portrait of society by giving a glimpse of the London underworld and its Cockney rhyming slang and especially through a frank examination of the constraints on women's rights -- a theme that runs through many of her books. Though the overall tone of this book is serious, however, the issues it raises never overwhelm the romance. This is first and foremost a beautiful and moving love story.
 

The Country Gentleman
by
Fiona Hill

St. Martin's, 1987
ISBN: 0-312-01016-8

Reissued in paperback by
Fawcett, 1989
ISBN: 0-449-21758-2

Reviewed 10/31/02

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Fiona Hill


The Country Gentleman

by Fiona Hill


Rating: excellent

    Miss Anne Guilfoyle is living a life of leisure in London when she receives three unexpected announcements. First, her man of affairs invested her entire fortune in a merchant ship that was seized by pirates. Second, she has inherited a farm in Cheshire from her uncle on the grounds that she live there 10 months out of the year. Third, George Ensley, whom she has loved for over 10 years, has proposed marriage to a well-dowered lady. Reluctantly giving up her life of social interaction and intellectual stimulation, Anne packs up her possessions and travels with her companion, Mrs. Maria Insel, and her servants to the remote farmland she has inherited in northwest England.

    After several days of traveling through rain and mud, the weary party arrives at a large farmhouse in the middle of the night. Anne demands fires, food and beds from a maid who is so bewildered by her requests that Anne decides she must be a simpleton. But when a large gentleman in his nightclothes appears, Anne realizes that it is she who is in error. The house is not her uncle‚€™s but that of his neighbor, Mr. Henry Highet, who stands to inherit her uncle‚€™s farm if she does not fulfill the conditions of the will.

    Mortified, Anne retreats to the correct abode and discovers it to be a much smaller, humbler residence that is not at all suited to the Aubusson carpets and crystal chandeliers that she has had carted from London. But that is the least of Anne‚€™s problems. She must deal with her uncle‚€™s housekeeper, who refuses to yield to Anne‚€™s London staff, and his steward, who is not at all pleased to be working for a female. She must also learn to manage a large farm and tenants. And she must deal with her continuing feelings for George Ensley, who suggests to her that they could have a discreet arrangement after his marriage. When Henry Highet proposes that Anne marry him as a matter of business, giving him control of the farm while she would be free to return to London and pursue her own life, Anne agrees. But once she returns to the social whirl of London and later Paris, she finds herself missing her new home and, most of all, her new husband.

    I was immediately hooked from the opening pages of this book, wherein Anne and her friend Maria are horrified to find themselves awake at the ungodly hour of 11:00 a.m. sharing an unfamiliar meal known as breakfast. This droll scene sets the tone for the rest of the book, and at the same time it shows that the lifestyle to which Anne is accustomed is wholly at odds with life on a farm. Anne is spoiled, but not in a bratty way. She is used to fine things and to the wide range of entertainments that Town has to offer. Yet she is not interested in idle gossip; she is a smart woman who enjoys intelligent discourse and intellectual pursuits. Therefore, although the isolation of the farm is something of a shock to her, Anne applies herself diligently to learning farm management and finds herself enjoying it as an intellectual exercise.

    The first meeting between Anne and Henry Highet is another priceless scene. It is immediately apparent that Anne is in the wrong house and the reader watches her growing discomfort along with Henry. His hastily assembled ensemble of a striped nightshirt, a frock coat and boots creates a less than genteel impression and he deliberately reinforces Anne's low opinion of him by droning on about drainage during their first dinner together. But as she gets to know him, Anne begins to realize that Henry is no dullard; he has simply channeled his intellect into farming techniques and innovations to ensure that his land is productive and his tenants happy. He is different from the gentleman of the ton who voice opinions on the Corn Laws and the bread riots with no understanding of what life is like for the working class. Henry is also more vital and alive than Anne's idle friends; even his braying laugh, which initially embarrasses Anne, is an indication of his joie de vivre. And when Anne's eyes are opened at last to George Ensley's true nature, she sees that her husband is more of a gentleman than her former love will ever be.

    Fiona Hill has a fine, literate, witty writing style that begs comparison -- if I may be so bold -- with that of Georgette Heyer. In Anne Guilfoyle she has created a strong and unique heroine and in Henry Highet an appealing and equally unique hero. Watching them come together was a very enjoyable experience. This book was originally published in hardcover by St. Martin's and is widely available in libraries. It is well worth seeking it out.
 

The Unwavering Miss Winslow
by
Emma Lange

Signet, September 1989
ISBN: 0-451-16144-0

Reviewed 9/5/02

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Emma Lange

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Companions

The Unwavering Miss Winslow

by Emma Lange


Rating: excellent

    Miss Jessica Winslow has finally begun to feel at home. As a child, her home became a place of fear and danger after her mother married an abusive man. When her stepfather began to turn his lecherous attentions to Jessica, she fled in hopes of finding a husband and establishing a home of her own. But her hopes were dashed in her first and only Season when a young man taking her for a ride in the park instead abducted her to an inn and destroyed her reputation. Now Jessica works as a companion to an elderly lady who lives on a comfortable country estate with various relations who take Jessica into their lives and their confidences. But just as Jessica is beginning to settle in and feel secure, the master of the house returns and threatens to throw her out.

    Justin Stafford, the Earl of Roxham, is shocked to learn that his aunt's new companion is none other than the scheming jade who tried to trap his younger brother into marriage. Roxham had found the pair at an inn and paid the girl off, warning her to never approach his brother or his family again. And now here she is, bold as brass, in his own home! In order not to upset his aunt whose health is frail, he does not immediately dismiss the chit but determines to keep an eye on her, particularly in the vicinity of his young cousin Andrew. Roxham is certain that he needs only to bide his time and Jessica's true nature will cause her to betray herself. But instead, as he sees how she interacts with his family, with the tenants on a nearby estate, and with himself he begins to realize that he has gravely misjudged her character.

    Jessica stands firm in the face of Roxham's wrath. She needs to keep her job but she refuses to sacrifice her honor. She meets each new accusation with honesty and lets him accept or reject it as he will. Roxham's change of attitude is handled in a masterful way. He has reasonable grounds for believing his brother's story and subsequently distrusting Jessica, but although his prejudice affects his view of Jessica he does not let it blind him. Very early on, Roxham surprises Jessica by admitting he was wrong when he accused her of mishandling a situation between his young cousin Olivia and one of the grooms. Roxham is highly suspicious of Jessica's interactions with Andrew, who insists on following her around like a puppy, but when Jessica and Andrew are caught together in a hallway late at night, Roxham again surprises Jessica by believing that Andrew was merely comforting her after rescuing her from a lecherous house guest. Later, when Jessica and Andrew are found to have disappeared in the middle of the night, Roxham suffers a relapse of suspicion, but he quickly goes after Jessica and declares his love and trust in her without first learning what happened on the night in question or the full story of her earlier encounter with his brother.

    This story is driven by strong characters and strong emotions. Although the situation is based on a Big Misunderstanding, the couple do not simply snipe at one another throughout the book until a final unwarranted reconciliation, as one so often finds in these types of stories. Instead, Lange does a magnificent job of showing the hero and heroine gradually learning to understand one other and falling in love. It is a powerful and compelling romance.

 

A Soldier's Heart
by
Leslie Lynn

Fawcett, 1991
ISBN: 0-449-21968-2

Reviewed 3/20/01

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Leslie Lynn

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Separation & Second Chances

A Soldier's Heart

by Leslie Lynn


Rating: excellent

    Lord Matthew Blackwood, an idealistic young officer, sees the girl of his dreams across a crowded ballroom. He begins a whirlwind courtship and proposes to the young lady just days after their first encounter. For her part, Miss Serena Fitzwater has doubts that he sees her for who she is. When he tells her that she is the woman he has been hoping to find, she retorts, "You have been looking for someone approximately my height, with dark hair and blue eyes?" She tells him that he is in the clutch of a romantic vision. But she is an inexperienced parson's daughter in her first Season and is not immune to romance herself, so she soon accepts. They have one night together before he is recalled to duty, and when they meet again two years later he has lost his youthful idealism in battle and she has matured into a competent lady of the manor and a poised lady about town. Instead of a romantic dream they must now work to build a marriage.

    Stories of separation are always risky. Since the primary concern of a romance novel is the relationship between the hero and heroine, that focus must be maintained throughout the separation period, and the couple must grow as characters so that their ultimate reconciliation is believable. Leslie Lynn does a fine job on both these points.

    While the separation period is portrayed from the heroine's point of view, the connection between the couple is maintained through letters. Matthew writes that Serena shouldn't bother herself with estate matters, that he wants to continue to picture her "happily engaged in pursuits which will keep the beautiful smile on her cherry lips." Serena realizes that while she has come to know more about her husband through his family, friends, and tenants, he continues to see her as an ideal not as a person. She becomes more confident as she takes control of Matthew's estate and tenants, but she is not changing so much as she is building on her existing strength of character. It is Matthew's perception of her that must change.

    Matthew's character, on the other hand, does undergo a profound change. I almost gave up on the book in the first chapter because the prose was so flowery, but I soon realized that this was an accurate representation of Matthew's idealistic view of romance. His war experiences send him to the opposite extreme, despair. But as he comes to know his wife, both through the small but meaningful changes she has made on his estate and through one eye-opening act of courage on her part, he realizes that his real wife is far superior to his ideal. Their relationship undergoes one final test when Matthew is recalled to duty once again. Serena follows him to Brussels, and after a vividly portrayed battle at Waterloo they are finally reunited.

    There are a few small problems: Matthew, the younger son of a duke, is referred to as Lord Blackwood instead of Lord Matthew, while Serena becomes Lady Serena instead of Lady Matthew; Serena throws an uncharacteristic temper tantrum at the worst possible moment as her husband is leaving for Waterloo (though granted she'd been through a lot!). But these are minor quibbles. This is an excellent romance with particularly fine character development.

 

A Royal Escapade
by
Alicia Rasley

Zebra, November 1992
ISBN: 0-8217-3968-9

Reviewed 7/3/2001

Sequel is Poetic Justice, 1994

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Alicia Rasley

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Russia & Russians

A Royal Escapade

by Alicia Rasley


Rating: excellent

    The year is 1811. As Napoleon's armies encroach from the east, Tsar Alexander of Russia is seeking to improve relations with Britain. A royal marriage is proposed between the Duke of Cumberland and Princes Tatiana of Saraya Kalin -- a small kingdom absorbed by the Russian empire. Viscount Devlyn, one of Wellington's aides, is sent to escort the princess to England. A simple task, he is told, but he takes one look at her portrait and says, "She's trouble."

    Devlyn is correct in his assessment. From the moment he meets her in Smyrna, Tatiana unsettles him. She intrudes upon his nightly strolls on deck, revealing her fears about her intended bridegroom and confiding in him about her parents' exile to Siberia. Devlyn must steel himself to completing his task and delivering her to her fate in England. And after jumping overboard to rescue her during a storm, washing up on the coast of France, spending an uncomfortable night in an abandoned cottage, and escaping enemy territory in a hot-air balloon, he succeeds at his mission.

    Tatiana agreed out of a sense of duty to meet to Duke of Cumberland, but she also sees her voyage to England as a chance to escape the Winter Palace where she was occasionally treated with contempt and largely ignored. She intends to use her dowry to set herself up independently if she finds she can't abide Cumberland. Her first sight of Devlyn looking up to where she stands in the window of her hotel in Smyrna stirs romantic fancies in her, and as her fancy develops into love she dares to hope that another course may be open to her. But a visit to the Tower of London, where Lady Jane Grey's husband Guilford Dudley was imprisoned before being executed, causes Tatiana to realize that as a royal princess she is not free to marry as she chooses and that she can't ask Devlyn to make such a sacrifice.

    The Dudley story as an illustration of the obstacles facing Tatiana and Devlyn is just one example of Rasley's use of historical detail to enrich her story. Tatiana's childhood memory of her parents' exile as scapegoats for Tsar Paul's assassination not only adds an interesting facet of Russian history but also gives dimension to Tatiana's character. Similarly, the mysterious death of the Duke of Cumberland's valet, possibly at the hands of his master, is a juicy Regency-era tidbit that lends an added element of foreboding to Tatiana's forthcoming nuptials. Rasley does a fine job bringing historical figures to life, particularly in the case of Wellington. Many Regencies have shown Wellington the great military strategist, but through Devlyn's eyes we see him as a leader of men who likes to think of his officers as "our little family." His officers, in turn, are simultaneously admiring of his skill and exasperated by his quirks.

   Alicia Rasley -- who incidentally now offers creative writing tips and guidelines at her website -- has an impeccable writing style. Her word choices and turns of phrase are near-perfect, and she has a knack for evoking just the right mood in a given scene, whether it be adventurous, humorous or passionate. She also has an excellent sense of pacing and timing. When Tatiana falls overboard, Rasley doesn't ploddingly describe Devlyn's rescue efforts. Rather she cuts immediately to Devlyn stomping down a stormy, wind-swept beach muttering, "Don't tell me this is like a summer stroll compared to Russia," echoing Tatiana's many comments on the weather. This not only keeps the story moving, it provides a moment of comic relief as well.

    A Royal Escapade and its sequel Poetic Justice are both extremely enjoyable books with a perfect blend of adventure, humor and romance. It's a shame that for whatever reason Alicia Rasley seems to have stopped publishing Regencies. Although no doubt Regency authors can benefit from her writing advice, Regency readers would most certainly benefit from more of her fine stories.

 

The Sergeant Major's Daughter
by
Sheila Walsh

Signet, August 1978
ISBN: 0-451-16061-4

Reviewed 9/27/02

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Sheila Walsh

See a list of more Regencies about
Governesses
& Teachers

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Social Issues

The Sergeant Major's Daughter

by Sheila Walsh


Rating: excellent

    After years of following the drum with her parents, Miss Felicity Vale has at last returned to England. Her sergeant-major father died at Waterloo and her mother succumbed to illness shortly thereafter, so Felicity must make her own way in the world. To give herself time to make plans and hopefully procure a good reference, Felicity has decided to visit her cousin Amaryllis, who is the widow of a younger son and lives at the Wiltshire estate of her brother-in-law Maxim, the Earl of Stayne.

    Upon her arrival, Felicity fears she has made the wrong decision. Amaryllis, languishing in the drawing room surrounded by fashionable guests, is not pleased to see this sun-browned Amazon whose mother made such an unfortunate match. But Amaryllis sees an opportunity to obtain an unpaid governess for her son Jamie, whose delicate constitution, she thinks, has not been properly understood by any of his previous governesses.

    Felicity is not fooled by Master Jamie, and soon has him applying himself to his studies and enjoying outdoor activities. Nor is she intimidated by the Earl of Stayne. The earl pegs her instantly as a managing female, and indeed she soon convinces him to provide Jamie with much-needed masculine attention and to provide the local children with a much-needed school. Felicity takes up the role of schoolteacher with enthusiasm, and the children, including a youthful poacher and a mentally disabled boy, respond in kind. But when she locks horns with Captain Hardman, the owner of a neighboring estate who objects to educating the lower classes on the grounds that it fosters rebellion, Felicity finds her school and her life in danger.

    From the opening scene it is clear that Felicity is a heroine to be reckoned with. Her experiences with the army on the Continent set her apart from her contemporaries, while the guitar she carries with her baggage hints at another unique dimension to her character. Likewise, her first encounter with the earl immediately sets the tone for their relationship. She meets him on an equal footing (despite the fact that he has just run her off the road with his curricle!), and although he is at first startled by her forthright manner, he clearly cannot help but admire her. They are a well-matched pair from the outset.

    The earl‚€™s character is profoundly affected by his relationship with Felicity. In the beginning, he behaves like a typical landowner of his time. He is reluctant to interfere in the affairs of his fellow landowner Captain Hardman even though he mistreats his tenants. The earl‚€™s own tenants are well fed and housed, but he does not believe that educating them is necessary. He consents to the school mainly to humor Felicity. It is through Felicity that he comes to understand the unrest that has been building among the lower classes across England. After a nearly fatal encounter with the young poacher, the earl realizes just how dramatically his views have changed.

    The secondary characters are also well drawn. Jamie could easily have been a spoiled brat, but instead he is just a lonely boy who eagerly responds to any attention paid to him and forms an unlikely friendship with the young poacher. Amaryllis most certainly is spoiled, but when Jamie falls ill with measles she rethinks her priorities and becomes a more caring mother and a friend to Felicity. As for Captain Hardman, he is a chillingly evil, sadistic man. His attitude is extreme, yet it serves to raise the issues of disparity and unrest between the classes in a thought-provoking but not heavy-handed manner. At the same time the Captain‚€™s scheming adds a feeling of mounting tension that builds to an exciting climax.

    Above all, however, this is the story of Felicity and how she stands true to her convictions and touches the lives of others in the process. She is a memorable heroine and I‚€™m pleased to have met her.

 


 
 
 
 
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