The very last book in my project to reread all Heyer’s Regency novels in the order they were written. This is very far from her best work, and sadly it’s actually a rehash of what I personally regard as her most entertaining book, Black Sheep, but with far less likable protagonists, less humour, and a much sketchier plot. Even so, I found a lot to like about it.
Here’s the plot: Annis Wychwood is beautiful, rich and determinedly single at twenty nine. While returning to her Bath home, she happens upon a broken-down gig, and offers help to the young lady stranded at the side of the road. Lucilla is running away from an arranged marriage – with the equally reluctant bridegroom, Ninian, who nobly offered to see her to safety. Annis offers Lucilla a temporary home and sets about finding suitable amusements for the girl. Lucilla may be an orphan, but she isn’t unprotected, and her uncle and guardian, Oliver Carleton, the rudest man in London, arrives to sort things out.
The two are immediately at loggerheads, and most of the humour in the book comes from their spirited exchanges. I think this was meant to be a collision between the perfect manners of the lady of quality versus the complete lack of manners of the gentleman, but since she was often almost as rude as he was, it didn’t work too well. There was also a great deal of rehashing of the current state of play of the various side characters (a problem with Charity Girl, as well), which drags everything down to a snail’s pace, and, quite frankly, nothing very much happens very slowly anyway. Nevertheless, the book was short enough and funny enough that I didn’t mind it.
The romance is, fortunately, one that builds from the moment the two protagonists meet, which for me is far better than being bolted on as an afterthought. It wasn’t a completely convincing romance, because they seem rather a mismatched pair, but I won’t quibble over that. The side plots were pretty silly, and the resolution even sillier, but that’s a classic Heyer strategy. On the whole, Black Sheep does it far, far better, but it was still an amusing and (mostly) charming read, I liked Maria Farlow’s long, rambling monologues, the ingenue and young buck (Lucilla and Ninian) were not in the least stupid, and I very much enjoyed Annis’s sister-in-law, who was thrilled when the household succumbed to sickness and she was able to spend all day caring for her baby. A lovely woman. Four stars.