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Regency Reviews - Regencies rated Very Good


Meddlesome Miranda
by
Jane Ashford
Signet, January 1989

ISBN: 0-451-15806-7

Reviewed 12/6/02

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Smuggling

 

Meddlesome Miranda

by Jane Ashford


Rating: very good

    Miss Miranda Dennison is not pleased to be sent to visit her sister Rosalind instead of accompanying her parents to Italy. Rosalind lives with her new husband Philip in an isolated Abbey near the coast in Northumberland. Miranda expects a dull time, but she does not expect to find her sister being kept a virtual prisoner by her husband. In place of the charming young man who courted Rosalind during her Season, there is now a brooding stranger. Or so it appears to Miranda, who records all her observations in her journal.

    Miranda is determined to get to the bottom of things, and she is joined in her investigation by a fellow houseguest, Philip's cousin Alan Creighton. Eventually Miranda learns the real reason for Rosalind's reclusive behavior and, more importantly, discovers that a group of unsavory Londoners have infiltrated the local smuggling operation. But when Alan shares the information she discovered with Philip without reciprocating, Miranda decides she must go it alone. Soon, however, both she and Alan learn the value of one another's help.

    This is a very enjoyable story filled with humorous moments. The unique device of alternating chapters between Miranda's diary entries and a third-person narrative is highly effective. The diary entries provide insight into Miranda's character while the narrative allows the reader to see the broader picture. Often what Miranda perceives is at odds with what is really going on, with amusing results. 

    Miranda is a very appealing heroine. Her voracious reading of Gothic novels -- of which many hilarious examples are given -- has given her an overactive imagination and leads her to suspect sinister doings even when none exist. In this sense she is more than a bit like Catherine Morland of Northanger Abbey. When the true nature of the situation becomes evident, Miranda rises to the occasion. She is plucky though a bit hapless without being foolish. 

    Alan, though somewhat less clearly drawn, is also very appealing. His war experiences have led him into some excesses, but his skills as an officer make him well suited to the task at hand. Alan's first instinct is to shield Miranda from the unpleasant realities of the situation which he deems unsuitable for a lady's sensibilities, but he comes to realize that this particular lady at least is better equipped to deal with the truth than he thought. As for Miranda, she learns that adventures are quite different from what she expected -- nasty, uncomfortable things that make one late for dinner, as Bilbo Baggins would say -- but that sharing experiences with the right person can be exhilarating all the same.
 

The Ill-Bred Bride
by
Rosemary Edghill
St. Martin's, 1990
reissued in paperback by
Fawcett, 1991

ISBN: 0-449-21958-5

Reviewed 11/4/01

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Indebted Lords & Cits' Daughters

The Ill-Bred Bride

by Rosemary Edghill


Rating: very good

    Denzil Hanford is the 29th Baron Hanford. His ancient but not entirely proud lineage can be traced back to the Conqueror, but the family's fortunes have declined over the centuries. The current Lord Hanford was a 17-year-old student of music and poetry at Oxford when he inherited the title along with a mountain of debt. He soon learns that practicing the strictest economies and selling off many of the estate's treasures are not sufficient to enable him to meet his obligations to his tenants and his family. When his mother begins to press him to give his sister a Season and when his sickly cousin Ancilla shows signs of a decline if she can't escape the harsh English winter for warmer climes, Hanford agrees to his banker's suggestion that he marry an heiress. 

    When Miss Susannah Potter is summoned by her father to discuss her future, she expects him to talk of marriage. She does not, however, expect him to have a groom already chosen, and she is even more surprised to learn that her father has arranged for her to marry a viscount she has never met. She refuses him, but then her father's untimely death leaves her an heiress and vulnerable to the advances of her oily cousin. Her uncle arranges for her to meet a new lordly candidate for her hand, and, touched in a way she does not fully understand, Susannah agrees to marry Lord Hanford.

    But Susannah soon realizes that despite her gentle upbringing, she cannot easily fit into her husband's world. Her first mistake upon arriving at her new home and learning that the cook has been let go is to head for the kitchen and make dinner herself, shocking the servants and her husband, who barely knows where the kitchen is. Her next mistake is to begin settling her husband's debts in the village; even though that was why her husband married her, she learns that it is not considered ladylike to deal directly with tradesmen.

    What troubles Susannah more than these faux pas, however, is the fact that her husband seems to value his duty more than he values his wife: "He had married her for his family's sake and had found nothing in his bride to render her of equal importance. And the love that had sparked between them at their first meeting, that had grown in her even through all the misunderstandings of the past weeks, was a gift that Hanford did not want." For his part, though Hanford is drawn to his unconventional wife, he finds it hard to relinquish the duties that have burdened him for so long: "For a moment he allowed the certainty to warm him; the memory of the vitality that allowed her to sweep through brandishing dustrags and bank drafts and remake the world nearer to her heart's desire. It was not in his nature. He was a Hanford of Laceby, born to conserve the past and hand it down unchanged."

    Edghill does a fine job of placing Hanford and Susannah at odds and gradually bringing them together. On several occasions, she lays the groundwork for a Big Misunderstanding, but instead has her hero and heroine resolve the problem by discussion. The underlying conflict, however, is not so easily resolved, and the couple's eventual rapprochement is realistic and believable. 

    If you enjoy Regencies about indebted lords who marry daughters of wealthy Cits, this is the book for you. Like Heyer's classic A Civil Contract, Rosemary Edghill's The Ill-Bred Bride stands out as a prime example of this subgenre.

The Wicked Cousin
by
Zabrina Faire
Warner, 1980

ISBN: 0-446-94104-2

Reviewed 9/01/01

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Identity
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Lost Heirs

The Wicked Cousin

by Zabrina Faire


Rating: very good

    Miss Bryony de Beaufre is the Toast of the Ton, but she much prefers the company of her gentle-hearted, obese cousin, Lucas Bardine. Bryony's mother tries to discourage this attachment and instead pushes her into the company of Stephen Bardine, a newly discovered cousin whom Lucas rescued from poverty. Bryony is just beginning to realize that her feelings for Lucas may be more than just friendship when he mysteriously disappears, leaving Stephen as his heir. Four years pass and Bryony finds herself coerced by her dying mother into accepting a proposal from Stephen. She dreads her forthcoming nuptials and finds an unlikely ally in the mysterious librarian who has recently arrived to catalog her late father's collection. The librarian, Orion Bidewell, engenders a sense of trust in Bryony, almost as if he were an old friend...

    Of course Orion Bidewell is in fact Lucas Bardine, returned from four years of hardship with a lean physique and a yen for revenge. Cousin Stephen had abducted him, branded his body with seaman's tattoos, and had him impressed aboard a ship bound for America. Unable to convince his shipmates of his true identity, Lucas suffered privation and the lash and was later imprisoned in Louisiana. He emerged from his trials different not only in body but in spirit. For the first time he let anger consume him and he returns to England with one thought on his mind: To make Stephen pay. Upon arrival he learns that Bryony is engaged to Stephen. Lucas had long since given up hope that she might ever love him as he had been, and now he fears she has betrayed him. He gains employment in her household with the intention of using his position -- and Bryony -- as a means to an end. But when he finds that his vivacious friend has become a melancholy shadow of herself, he begins to question his scheme.

    Lucas's transformation is masterfully conveyed. He is sweet and gentle-natured, but his quick defense of an abused cart-horse causes Bryony to realize that there is a spark hidden within him. Lucas is hurt by her surprise at his show of courage. His size has long prevented him from doing what other men take for granted, including aspiring for a woman's love. He takes her reaction to mean that she can never see him as a man, while Bryony begins to realize that she has never seen Lucas for what he really is. But they are prevented from exploring this any further when Lucas is abducted and thrust unprepared into a nightmare situation. The brutality of Lucas's life at sea is vividly portrayed. At first he feels incapable of dealing with his new situation, but he manages to draw on an inner strength and survive. The change in his character is conveyed in just a few short passages, but it is wholly convincing.

    The development of the romance is also believable. Bryony has come to love Lucas even more in his absence. When he reappears in the guise of Orion Bidewell, there is no spark of recognition to his physical appearance, but she senses something trustworthy about him and feels safe in his presence. Lucas is surprised when she reveals this to him in light of his schemes involving her. He had lost faith in her not simply because of a misunderstanding but through despair. But it is Bryony's faith in him that allows Lucas to regain his faith and reject his quest for vengeance in favor of love.

Leonora
by
Catherine Fellows
Fawcett, 1974

ISBN: 0-449-02068-0

Reviewed 4/11/01

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Highwaymen

Leonora

by Catherine Fellows


Rating: very good

    After the Battle of Waterloo, intelligence operative Captain Louis Matheson is missing and presumed dead. But in fact he has returned to England and has become the highwayman known as the Black Gentleman. One night he holds up the coach of Miss Leonora Revell who, instead of having a fit of the vapors, helps him get away, but not before her escort Sir Mark Finchley shoots him.

    Louis quickly recovers and decides to give up life on the high toby. He soon learns that he has become the new Earl of Everard and rejoins Society, where he is a great success with hopeful debutantes and matchmaking mamas. But two people recognize him and could cause him mischief. One is Sir Mark, who is incensed that Louis is flirting with a beautiful redhead whom he fancies himself. The other is Leonora, who is amused and not at all alarmed to encounter a highwayman in a glittering London ballroom. When Louis later proposes to her she is at first in alt, but then learns that he had an assignation with the redhead the night before. Recalling something Louis said about Leonora knowing the truth about him, she decides he has proposed in order to silence her and refuses him.

    From the initial, highly amusing scene when he bungles the robbery attempt and is startled by the occupants of a chicken coop, Louis is a refreshing type of hero. Not that he is by any means inept or fainthearted; rather he is affable and easygoing. He seems to have adopted the guise of a highwayman as a lark. He is not unduly alarmed at the thought of exposure, nor is he daunted by Leonora's sudden change of heart. He is at first displeased thinking he has misread her character but shortly decides to get to the bottom of things and bring her around. Leonora herself is disheartened by what to her is a logical interpretation of Louis' actions but she neither goes off in a huff nor hardens her heart to Louis' attempts to persuade her. This is a fine example of how the Big Misunderstanding that is so prevalent in the genre can be done well.

    This is a delightful and enjoyable Regency. I had a smile on my face as I read; I can't think of a better recommendation than that.

Venetian Masquerade

by Ellen Fitzgerald

Rating: very good

    Georgiana Lovat's mother is a sore trial. Lady Caroline Lovat is a novelist and she uses her daughter and son to provide material for her stories. Georgiana has been a governess and her brother Peter has been imprisoned in the Fleet in order to research characters. On one occasion, when Georgiana fell in love with Alston Hillyard who had lost his lover in Java, Lady Caroline betrayed her daughter's confidences and wrote a novel based on the man's tragic tale.

Now Georgiana and her brother are headed to Venice on what they are determined will be their last research trip with their mother. But strange things begin to happen as soon as they reach the Continent. Their guide appears to be a spy, and to make matters worse Alston Hillyard - the man Georgiana secretly loves - joins their party and appears to have some mysterious connection to Georgiana's mother. 

In Venice, Georgiana discovers that the research trip is actually a cover for a mission to aid the resistance to Austrian rule.
 

The Cloisonné Locket
by
Barbara Hazard
Signet, November 1986

ISBN: 0-451-14565-8

Reviewed 9/27/02

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Disabilities & Disfigurement

The Cloisonné Locket

by Barbara Hazard


Rating: very good

    Since the death of her parents, Miss Rosemary Barton has been carefully schooled in ladylike behavior by her aunt. Rosemary has learned to curb unseemly laughter and exuberance, she pulls her glossy black hair into a modest bun, she wears her dresses loose to hide her lush figure, and she has even changed her name from the flamboyant Rosa Maria chosen by her Italian mama to the proper English Rosemary. But her spirit has not been completely crushed, so when her aunt decides to send her beautiful niece to a distant relative in London on the eve of her own daughter‚€™s country debut, Rosemary can‚€™t help but feel excited at the prospect.

    Upon her arrival in London, Rosemary is in for a bit of a shock. Her relative, Lady Emily Cranston, is a recluse who has not left her townhouse on Berkeley Square for years. The house is dark and dingy; the shutters are closed except for one chink where a telescope is trained on the house across the square. Most of the servants are openly rude and resentful of Rosemary‚€™s efforts to make the house habitable. Lady Emily pays little attention to her guest, spending the days shut up in her rooms and sitting silently through dinner and interminably long evenings in the library. It is not until Rosemary meets the inhabitants of the house across the square that Lady Emily begins to take a sudden interest in her guest, pressing for details of Rosemary‚€™s visits while she clutches the cloisonné locket that she always wears.

    The house across the square is the town residence of the Dukes of Rutland. Mark Halston, the current duke, is staying there with his sister Annabelle, who was crippled in a childhood accident for which the duke blames himself. Annabelle is one of the few people who sees the duke‚€™s warm and caring side; to others he behaves with the cold propriety of his station. The duke is used to young marriageable ladies throwing themselves in his path, so when he begins to encounter Rosemary everywhere he turns ‚€“ outside his house, at social events, and especially in his sister‚€™s company ‚€“ he immediately suspects a scheme. He is correct, as it happens, but Rosemary is not the schemer. The duke and Rosemary are both pawns on someone else‚€™s chessboard.

    There is a definite touch of the Gothic to this Regency. A gloomy house, surly servants, a cackling crone ‚€“ Rosemary is even locked in an attic at one point! The only thing lacking is a windswept moor. The Gothic feel never becomes overwhelming or silly, however. The tense, brooding atmosphere is balanced with the ordinary hustle and bustle of life in the metropolis. Outside on Berkeley Square, the sun is shining, children are playing in the park, servants are running errands, and people are coming home for tea with their families, while Lady Emily remains holed up in her self-imposed prison.

    Lady Emily is quite a character. She displays an acerbic wit in dealing with people she has no patience for ‚€“ which is basically everyone. She has been nursing a wrong done to her for years awaiting an opportunity to avenge herself, with the cloisonné locket serving as a focus for her obsession.  True, she does cackle evilly at one point, but she is no stock villain.

    Likewise, Rosemary is no Gothic heroine, running about foolishly at night armed only with a candle. She maintains a level head in the face of Lady Emily‚€™s machinations and the duke‚€™s accusations. She is eager to experience the wonders of the London Season and perseveres despite the obstacles presented by Lady Emily‚€™s reclusiveness and the duke‚€™s disfavor. Rosemary‚€™s ignorance of her attraction to men is reasonable given her background, though at times men‚€™s reactions to her seem a bit much ‚€“ the duke, for example, insists that Rosemary must be a wanton because she looks so sensual! Although understandably perturbed by this rather bizarre attitude, Rosemary refuses to go back to her dowdy gowns. She sees no reason to stop enjoying herself because of the duke‚€™s ridiculous notions.

    The duke‚€™s arrogance could easily have become unbearable, but his sister Annabelle manages to ground him. "I think sometimes you have become absurd," she tells him, "seeing voracious manhunters behind every pillar and post." Annabelle‚€™s friendship with Rosemary also helps the duke to understand Rosemary‚€™s true nature. Although at first he suspects her of befriending his sister to win his affections, he soon sees that Rosemary truly cares about and understands his sister in a way that the cold, unfeeling lady he has been courting does not. He is at last moved to declare himself, and though he emphasizes her beauty a bit too much for my liking, it is nevertheless a romantic and dramatic moment that also serves to bring the intrigue to a climax. 

    A fine blend of the traditional Regency and romantic suspense.
 

A Commercial Enterprise
by
Sandra Heath
Signet, September 1984
Reissued by Signet, October 1987

ISBN: 0-451-13161-4

Reviewed 9/27/02

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Entrepreneurs

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Espionage

A Commercial Enterprise

by Sandra Heath


Rating: very good

    Miss Caroline Lexham is surprised to receive a letter requesting her attendance at the reading of her grandfather‚€™s will. Her father was exiled from his family for making an unsuitable match, and since then the humble Lexhams of Devon have had no contact with the lofty Earl of Lexham‚€™s family. Now Caroline is on her own and finds herself under increasing pressure to marry a neighboring squire. She determines to set out for London to hear the old earl‚€™s will and to experience a bit of life in Town. A storm strands her at an inn so she accepts a ride in the carriage of Sir Henry Seymour, realizing only too late that Sir Henry‚€™s companion Lady Chaddington will not be joining them. Sir Henry is intrigued by his passenger, who is shabbily dressed and unaccompanied yet obviously a lady. He behaves like a gentleman on their overnight trip and deposits Caroline in front of the lawyer's chambers at the appointed hour.

    The other members of the Lexham family gathered in the chambers ignore Caroline ‚€“ until the shocking will is read. The new earl, Dominic, is informed that he must reform his profligate ways in order to receive monies from the estate. Worse, as an incentive for Dominic‚€™s compliance, the despised black sheep‚€™s daughter Caroline is given the Lexham‚€™s grand townhouse, on one condition: The home must be completely opened and inhabited but Caroline will not receive any money to maintain the house, nor can she take out loans or accept money from friends. If she succeeds for a period of six months, the house is hers to keep.

    Resigned to the fact that she has been given an impossible task, Caroline heads for the luxurious Oxenford Hotel where the lawyer has booked a suite for her. She feels out of place among the elegant clientele, yet she cannot help but be impressed with the grand establishment ‚€“ it is a far cry from the humble inns of Devon. An idea begins to form in her mind about a possible way to fulfill the conditions of the late earl‚€™s will. She will make Lexham House into a hotel for society‚€™s elite, and thereby be able to completely open the house and earn enough money to maintain it.  Already hampered by the fact that she is a woman in a man‚€™s world, the difficult process of starting and running a commercial enterprise is made even harder by the opposition of the new Earl of Lexham, the jealous scheming of Lady Chaddington, the difficulties of finding a French master chef, a plot to assassinate the Duke of Wellington, and, perhaps most disturbing of all, the constant presence of Sir Henry.

    Caroline‚€™s efforts to make the Lexham Hotel a success give her ample opportunity to show herself to be an intelligent, capable heroine. She manages the business end quite well on her own, and when assassins and other shady characters prove too much for her, Sir Henry always seems to be skulking about to lend a hand. He is on a secret mission for the Duke of Wellington, who figures prominently as a character, and this subplot lends momentum to the story while incorporating historical detail in an intriguing way. Sir Henry is an appealing hero with a wry sense of humor, and though he is a bit of a nodcock for thinking that Caroline has developed feelings for the Earl of Lexham, he redeems himself by unquestioningly championing her when events come to a head in the end.

    The hotel business is a highly original and interesting plot device that is realistically executed. Information on the rise of luxury hotels such as the Pulteney and the Clarendon during the Regency era is introduced naturally, as Caroline and Sir Henry discuss these establishments along with the fictional Oxenford on their journey to London. Caroline‚€™s own observations of how things are done at the Oxenford Hotel and how she would improve things make her decision to start her own hotel a reasonable one. 

    This unique milieu is what makes this novel a standout, and Heath has a fine writing style that captures the atmosphere perfectly, whether it be the opulence of a luxury hotel or the contrasting bleakness of Dartmoor. An interesting story well told that makes for a very enjoyable read.
 

Frivolous Pretence
by
Anthea Malcolm
Zebra, February 1990

ISBN: 0-8217-2902-0

Reviewed 9/5/02

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Separation & Second Chances
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Politics & Social Issues

Frivolous Pretence

by Anthea Malcolm


Rating: very good

    The year is 1820. Queen Caroline is being tried in the House of Lords on the grounds of adultery. The Prince Regent -- now King George IV -- is hoping to obtain a divorce from his troublesome wife.

    But the Royal couple's marriage is not the only one in trouble. Demetra Thane and Frank Hawksley knew they faced a challenge when they married seven years ago. She was the daughter of a prominent Tory family and he was a rising Whig MP. The first crisis came two years into their marriage when Demetra was suspected by some Whigs of feeding damaging information about a Whig candidate to her Tory brother. The Hawksleys retired to their sheep farm and Frank gave up his seat in Parliament. Frank defended his wife, but their relationship was strained and never fully recovered.

    Now, Demetra's brother appears to have knowledge of a witness for Queen Caroline's defense whom the Whigs have kept secret. Frank confronts his wife with this news and she decides that in order for their marriage to survive she must clear her name by discovering the truth behind her brother's involvement. She packs up the children and leaves her husband's home to return to the family who once shunned her for her politically incorrect marriage.

    Demetra is a level-headed, intelligent, independent heroine. She makes an excellent detective, using her powers of reason and deduction to quickly get to the heart of her brother's scheme. She makes a refreshing change from Regency heroines who rush headlong into danger in the name of independence and then must be rescued by the hero. However, while it's perfectly fine to have Demetra solve the mystery on her own, the problems in the Hawksleys' marriage need to be worked out as a couple. Unfortunately, this does not happen. The couple separate immediately and are together only on a few occasions throughout. Demetra seems to be under the impression that once she clears her name all their problems will be solved. There is an indication that she and Frank realize this is not the case in the brief reconciliation scene at the end but we never see them act on it. 

    Frank's character especially suffers from the lack of interaction between the couple. He has a lot to make up for after the initial blunder of doubting his wife but he never gets the chance. He still manages to come off surprisingly well; for the most part he suspects Demetra merely of trying to get her brother out of a scrape and only comes to suspect her of active involvement in the plot after she is seen with the secret witness. More worrying is Frank's involvement in helping a former love who is being blackmailed. He does not precisely fall into the lady's snares -- he recognizes her as clingy and needy -- but he comes dangerously close to putting her needs above his wife's. Although his involvement with his former love is revealed to be innocent, this is another issue that the couple needs to work out but never does. It is unfortunate, because the premise of a married couple working out their problems is an intriguing one and could have made a compelling romance.

    Despite these problems, this is a very well-written, interesting novel. The story of Queen Caroline's trial is fascinating and Anthea Malcolm does an excellent job of weaving historical facts into the narrative seamlessly without ever sounding like a textbook. The mystery aspect is enjoyable, with Demetra acting the part of a Regency-era Kinsey Millhone. The various suspects provide much entertainment, especially the mysterious Italian contessa who is supposed to testify on the Queen's behalf. And the denouement with the entire cast of characters crowding into the parlour clamoring to be heard is quite amusing. I strongly recommend this as a historical novel of the Regency period, if not as a Regency romance.
 

Borrowed Plumes
by
Roseleen Milne
Hodder & Stoughton, 1977
Reissued by Signet, July 1978

ISBN (Signet): 0-451-09811-0

Reviewed 4/11/01

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Tending the Injured or Ill
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Mistaken & Switched Identities

Borrowed Plumes

by Roseleen Milne


Rating: very good

    Constance Osborne is not pleased when she learns that the new Earl of Chievely wants to buy back Monksford, the estate that his father sold to her father 20 years ago. She considers the earl, whose exploits she has read about in the society pages, to be a libertine, and she is angry that he approached her uncle instead of herself. But mainly she cannot imagine losing the only home she has ever known.

    She immediately dispatches a letter to this effect and is shocked to learn that not only has the earl not relented in his desire to reclaim Monksford, he has now wagered that he can win her hand as well. Incensed by his presumption, Constance takes her horse out for a gallop and unexpectedly runs into the path of a curricle, causing the driver to be thrown. The injured man tells her he is Noel Musgrave, and as he recuperates from his broken leg under Constance's care they fall in love.

    I don't think I will be giving anything away to savvy Regency readers when I reveal that Noel Musgrave and the Earl of Chievely are one and the same!

    Though this basic plot has been used many times since, this is an early and quite good example of it. The premise is handled well. Chievely's feelings for Constance develop naturally and his reasons for maintaining the disguise and the way he does so are fairly reasonable, though near the end one wants to shake him and say, "Tell her you nodcock!" As for Constance, she is proud but not unreasonably stubborn. Her motivation is clear and understandable. A particularly revealing moment for her is when a woman from the village rejoices that the Earls of Chievely will be coming home at last and Constance realizes that though she is well liked she has always been perceived as an outsider.

    Roseleen Milne has a nice grasp of the Regency style. Constance's uncle employs cant expressions to such good effect as to be at times unintelligible. There is also a great deal of humor. A particularly hilarious moment is when Chievely's cousin, a curate who has been convinced to pose as the earl, must dress as a housemaid to escape detection and attracts the amorous attentions of his archbishop. A scene and a book I won't soon forget.
 

An Improper Widow
by
Kate Moore
Avon, 1995
ISBN: 0-380-77542-5

Reviewed 3/20/01

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An Improper Widow

by Kate Moore


Rating: very good

    Susannah Lacy has been living under the assumed name of Mrs. Bowen, serving as an unpaid companion in her uncle's house since her scandalous first Season ten years earlier. Her niece Juliet is now ready for her own Season so Susannah prepares to return to London as a chaperone, with her uncle's promise that if Juliet marries a man he approves of Susannah can retire to a cottage on his estate. En route to London, their carriage is held up by a dashing highwayman who leaves the two ladies with a calling card bearing the name of the Marquess of Warne and a hand-written message: "With my father's compliments."

    The card, it turns out, is one of a batch stolen from the Marquess of Warne by an adversary who has been using the cards to cause mischief all over town. Warne, who is known as the Iron Lord not only for his interest in steel manufacturing but also for the ruthless way in which he brought his father to ruin, thinks that one of his late father's friends is out to get him. He approaches the Lacy ladies hoping they can help him unmask the card thief.

    This book works on several levels. Warne's reasons for ruining his father and the card thief's reasons for going after Warne are intriguing and give depth to Warne's character as they are revealed. Although her shameful secret is not unique among Regency heroines, Susannah is also a well-drawn character who holds herself in check and behaves with propriety though she yearns to break free, to dance, and to respond to her growing feelings for Warne. His understanding of and attraction to this side of her and the way he draws her out of her shell make for a compelling romance. I also have a soft spot for mousy brown heroines whose beauty is apparent only to the hero.

    My only complaint is that I wanted more of the romance between Warne and Susannah and a bit less on the card thief. While he is certainly vital to the story and an interesting character in his own right, I felt that too much time was spent in his point of view. Part of the reason for this is a secondary romance between the thief and Juliet. But in a 200+ page traditional Regency there isn't really room for two fully developed romances. Besides, Juliet was one of those impetuous, spoiled beauties that are the bane of chaperones and I had no interest in what happened to her. I was much more interested in Warne's reaction to the thief's identity and the interaction between the pair, but unfortunately their ultimate meeting was rushed.

    Nevertheless, that fact that the romance between Warne and Susannah was so enthralling that it left me wanting more says a great deal about the quality of writing and character development in this fine novel and I highly recommend it.
 

The Byram Succession
by
Mira Stables
Fawcett, 1976
ISBN: 0-449-23558-0

Reviewed 5/7/01

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Disabilities & Disfigurement
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Sudden or Unexpected Inheritances

The Byram Succession

by Mira Stables


Rating: very good

    After receiving an unexpected inheritance from her Cousin Albert, Miss Alethea Forester leaves the small village where her father is parson and heads to London for a Season. En route, she stops to help at the scene of an accident and begs the assistance of a gentleman passing by. At first he refuses to leave his coach and she assumes he is toplofty, but when he at last descends she sees that one side of his face is severely burned. After they deal with the "injured" man, who turns out to be merely drunk, the scarred gentleman tells Alethea that his name is Skirlaugh and that he will call on her in London.

    When Alethea arrives at her aunt's house in London, she learns that her beautiful cousin Tina -- who is incensed that she did not receive Cousin Albert's legacy -- is scheming to trap Lord Skirlaugh. The deliciously villainous Tina declares that she can endure Skirlaugh's horrible scars if it means she will one day be the Duchess of Byram. But Skirlaugh sees through her scheming and finds himself drawn to Alethea's company instead. He invites Alethea to visit his aunt at Hampton Court and later takes her on a cruise down the Thames to Greenwich -- two interesting and unique excursions that make a refreshing change from the usual round of balls and teas attended by the majority of Regency heroes and heroines. But Tina is not so pleased by these excursions and sets in motion a plan that could derail the couple's progress toward happiness.

    Alethea is a likable heroine whose only flaw is that which afflicts so many Regency heroines -- a susceptibility to misunderstandings -- but she accepts the hero's explanations with alacrity and good humor. Skirlaugh is a wonderful hero. His self-consciousness about his scars is touching and the way he earned them quite courageous. The reader knows he has fallen for Alethea long before he does. He tells himself that he is simply being kind to her because of Tina's cruelty, but he enjoys Alethea's company so much that he forgets that when he takes her driving she will sit on the side where his face is scarred. Through such simple touches, the author succeeds at bringing the romance alive in subtle but moving ways.
 

The Scapegrace
by
Sylvia Thorpe
Hurst & Blackett, 1971
ISBN: 0-091-08830-5
Reissued in paperback by 
Fawcett, 1975
ISBN: 0-449-02439-0

Reviewed 11/3/02

See a list of more Regencies by
Sylvia Thorpe

See a list of more Regencies about
America & Americans
&
Guardians & Wards

The Scapegrace

by Sylvia Thorpe


Rating: very good

    Tristram, the young Earl of Maristone, is considered a reckless lad by his family, so they are dismayed but not terribly shocked when he takes in a distant cousin from America whose mother caused a scandal by eloping with a tutor. At first, Tristram is content to let his aunts find a respectable position for the young lady, but when they send her off to work for a miserly old harridan in the wilds of Essex, he changes his mind. He appoints himself her guardian and determines to bring her out in style, vowing that his ward will surely find a husband before his aunt's conceited daughter does.

    Miss Melinda Westcott is overwhelmed by Tristram's generosity. Since her mother died her life has been hard and she is not used to fine things. Soon she is caught up in the whirl of the Season and wins many friends and admirers. She wants to make Tristram proud and to that end she thinks she ought to accept the first eligible offer she receives, but two things stand in her way. An acquaintance from America appears in Town who could reveal a secret from her past that would ruin her. And even more distressing, she has fallen head over heels in love with her young guardian.

    Tristram is quite a charmer. So often, Regency heroes are years older than the heroine and have become jaded and bored. Tristram is only 24 and still enjoying life to the fullest. He is young and somewhat thoughtless, but not immature or selfish. He initially arranges Melinda's debut to spite his aunts but soon finds himself enjoying the pleasure it brings her and is pleased to be doing something for someone other than himself for a change. 

    Tristram is so amiable in fact that I couldn't help but wish that Melinda had trusted him a bit more. He is aware that something is troubling her and earnestly offers to help several times. Melinda's reticence is reasonable, however. The American visitor has a real hold over her. She is genuinely worried about the effect his revelations would have not only on herself but on Tristram and her new friends as well.  The fact that the villain is a greedy wastrel rather than a sinister evil-doer keeps things on a realistic level, and there is a neat twist at the end that is in keeping with the story's lighthearted tone.

    This is a fun read with a sweetheart of a hero who makes it especially memorable. Sylvia Thorpe's writing style is excellently suited to the Regency genre. This is the first of her novels that I've read, but it certainly won't be the last.

Enchanted Rendezvous
by
Rebecca Ward
Fawcett, 1991
ISBN: 0-449-21986-0

Reviewed 2/23/03

See a list of more Regencies by
Rebecca Ward

See a list of more Regencies about
Espionage & Smuggling
&
Hidden Talents
&
set in Dorset

Enchanted Rendezvous

by Rebecca Ward

Rating: very good

    Miss Cecily Vervain, fired from a governess position through no fault of her own, is taking the mail coach to her aunt's house on the Dorset coast when a pistol shot startles the horses and nearly sends the coach and passengers over a cliff. A mysterious stranger performs an act of derring-do and grabs the reins, pulling them all to safety. He then retrieves Cecily's ill-tempered cat, who had bolted from the coach in alarm. Cecily cannot make out the man's features in the dark, but when he returns the cat to her, she glimpses a gold signet ring shaped like a lion.

    Cecily arrives safely at her aunt's home and discovers that her aunt has another guest, Trevor, Lord Brandon. She wonders if he might be the mysterious stranger, but when she meets Trevor in the garden the next morning she dismisses the thought. Trevor is, to put it mildly, a dandy. Cecily is startled by his ensemble of a green jacket with huge brass buttons, a yellow shirt with collar points to his cheeks, yellow pantaloons, and high-heeled boots. But she is even more astonished when she learns that he chose his clothing to match the yellow breakfast room. Then Cecily notices that Trevor is wearing a lion-shaped ring. Surely it is not possible that such a fop is her midnight rescuer?

    Cecily's suspicions about Trevor grow as she sees the gentleman in action defending a cottager accused of smuggling from an over-zealous excise-man. She later sees him sneaking off into the woods in the middle of the night. Something peculiar is going on, and Trevor is not what he seems. Cecily is determined to get to the bottom of things.

    This is a thoroughly enjoyable story in the Scarlet Pimpernel vein. Trevor of the ever-changing wardrobe is priceless, yet his true character is evident through the veneer, and he and the strong-willed Cecily make an excellent match. Another amusing character is a neighboring lord with a passion for cooking and a peculiar speech pattern. Cecily's aunt, who concocts various potions out of herbs, is equally interesting. And for cat lovers (and haters) there is a magnificent yet thoroughly despicable feline.

    The Dorset setting is distinctive, and a scene where Cecily gets stranded on a sandbar is particularly effective in establishing a sense of place. Fans of smuggler-and-spy stories will find the plot entertaining and intriguing and the denouement wherein the reasons for all Trevor's machinations are revealed is surprising and unique. A very good choice for those looking for a humorous adventure mixed with a strong romance.


 
 
 
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