This book took me completely by surprise. Having loaded up my Kindle ready for a long-haul flight, I started with the big-name books and discarded them one-by-one — too many typos, too implausible, too historically inaccurate. By the time I got to this one, I had no expectations. And then it completely blew me away. Within five minutes of meeting Miss Rosa Lane — shy, stammering, socially inept Rosa — I desperately wanted her to have her happy ever after.
The plot is a time-honoured one: two sisters go to London for the season to find husbands for themselves. The older sister, Arielle, is excited at the prospect and declares she’s going to fall in love with the handsomest man she can find. Poor Rosa is terrified, of course. How will she ever manage at balls and large social gatherings, amongst so many strangers? She’s bound to be inept and say and do the wrong things. And both sisters are correct. Arielle instantly falls for the dashing and handsome Captain Steele, while Rosa can barely speak a word, even to the gentlemanly and unthreatening Mr d’Arcy, a widower in his thirties who is, as Jane Austen and the title of the book have it, ‘in want of a wife’, and who is unexpectedly friendly towards Rosa. But there’s another man whose attention she attracts, Steele’s friend, the strangely sardonic Captain Spencer.
And so the story unfolds with the choice Rosa has to make — the odd Captain, for whom she begins to have feelings, although he shows no sign of affection towards her, or the safe option, the wealthy widower with a comfortable situation, a marriage of convenience and perhaps a lifetime with respectability but no love. It’s a dilemma that so many Regency ladies must have faced — take the dull but safe offer now, or hold out for something better. Tricky. But when d’Arcy makes the offer, Rosa is too grateful and, frankly, too timid to turn him down and so, rather nervously, she marries him.
The rest of the book is an excellent description of how so many marriages of convenience must have gone — the polite formalities, the stilted conversations over dinner (Mr d’Arcy talks of very little beyond the weather!), the sheer loneliness of a life lived with someone who is virtually a stranger, played out in front of the servants. There are some very funny moments though, when the two are trying to conduct a conversation from opposite ends of a very long dining table, and misunderstanding each other, and having to repeat everything and shout. I wondered if they were going to resort to passing notes by way of the butler! The ending is pretty near perfect, and I actually cried when these two lovely people finally got all the obstacles out of the way and were set fair for happiness.
Is the book perfect? No, of course not. There were a few clunky moments, there were one or two places where I questioned the historical accuracy, the villains were a little too extreme and there were some parts of the story that could have been fleshed out a little more to give it some needed depth — I would have liked to see more of d’Arcy’s daughter, for instance, and one or two scenes showing Rosa with her after the marriage would have been welcome. One other (trivial) comment. It takes a certain amount of confidence to write a Regency romance with a hero called d’Arcy. There’s just too much baggage associated with the name. Captain Steele, too, reminded me of Lucy Steele in Sense and Sensibility.
I only have one serious grumble and that is the lack of chaperonage. I’ll forgive the two sisters travelling on the stagecoach because I assume there was an (unmentioned) matron accompanying them. But in London the aunt is simply never around, apart from formal functions like balls. During the day, she seems to be conveniently out visiting all the time, leaving the two sisters alone as prey for anyone who happens to turn up, or to walk about the streets and parks on their own. She must be the world’s worst chaperon! I’d expect her to take the girls with her when she goes visiting or shopping, to ensure they are introduced to all of her acquaintance, and once any gentlemen start to pay them attention she should be checking their backgrounds and ensuring that they’re respectable, and steering her nieces away from any bad apples. Instead she seems to take no interest at all until things reach crisis point.
But none of this detracted from the book for me in the slightest. From the very first page, its charm swept me along, and I was rooting for the hero and heroine all the way. A delightful read. Five stars.