This is a lovely read, a truly traditional Regency romance very reminiscent of Georgette Heyer. It features a feisty, I’ll-do-it-myself heroine, a rakish but charming hero, lots of witty banter and a whole array of amusing and/or villainous side characters.
The premise is that Miss Alexandra Grantham likes to play at being Robin Hood, taking on the role of highwayman to steal from the rich to bring a little comfort to the poor. This all comes to a crashing halt when a mysterious gentleman takes over the neighbouring estate and unmasks Alex. But she amuses him and when she goes to London for her coming-out season, he decides to make her fashionable, which he can do because, in a shocking twist (not), he’s a leader of society and a duke. Of course he is.
In a book like this, the plot isn’t really important except as a backdrop to the setpiece scenes – the balls and routs, the visit to Vauxhall Gardens, the clandestine meetings on curiously empty balconies at crowded parties and so on. Every scene with the two principals in it sparkled gloriously. I loved their banter and battles of wit, which sometimes he won and sometimes she did. And both of them were nicely real and sensible. He never arrogantly assumed she would marry him just because he was rich, titled and wanted her. She didn’t defy him just to demonstrate her independence. The rest of it, especially the fairly unbelievable dastardly plot at the end, was less interesting, but all of it was beautifully written, and for those who like a book with no sex at all, this one is perfectly safe.
Some very minor quibbles… Alex was oddly unobservant about the duke’s intentions. He goes riding and driving with her every day, he takes every opportunity to dance the rather scandalous waltz with her, everyone in London is in hourly anticipation of their betrothal and she is entirely oblivious until she’s told. He even kisses her at a very early stage, but this doesn’t give her a hint. Unusually for a modern Regency, this book is pretty accurate on language and Regency manners, although I thought the duke was overstepping the mark in saying that Alex was under his protection. And two duels were fought by gentlemen who had no right to defend the honour of the ladies in question, which was a bit much. Sometimes the author liked to squeeze in more of her extensive research than was really necessary for the advancement of the story. And finally, I felt the proposal scene fell a little bit flat after all the drama of the previous chapter or two, not to mention that everyone knew it was coming. I would have liked the duke to show a bit more passion.
But these are very minor grumbles, and I enjoyed the book so much that it’s a definite five star, and I’m going straight on to Lord Fenmore’s Wager.