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Review: Romance of the Ruin by Judith Everett (2021) [Trad]

Posted September 26, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Judith Everett is one of the most original authors I’ve come across in the Regency genre. This one lacks some of the freshness of the first book in the series, Two in the Bush, which is inevitable in a second book, but it’s still a terrific read, beautifully written and awash with interesting characters – and a romantically abandoned house.

Here’s the premise: Miss Lenora Breckenridge is now living with her mother Genevieve and new stepfather, Sir Joshua Stiles (the heroine and hero of the first book) in Sir Joshua’s country estate, Wrenthorpe. Her mother is thrilled to have escaped poverty at last and have a well-ordered house with an army of efficient servants. Lenora is less than thrilled, because what could be duller and less romantic than a house with no ghosts or secret passages or the slightest hint of disorder? She’s learnt her lesson about allowing her love of Gothic novels to infuse her real life, but, frankly, real life leaves her bored to flinders.

Only the gloomy Home Wood inspires her, and there she spends many a happy hour, allowing her imagination full rein. But one day, while enacting an encounter with a suitably romantic prince, she comes across the decidedly unromantic, and thoroughly drunk, James Ingles. Now, I’m going to be perfectly honest, drunken characters just don’t inspire much affection in me, especially when they’re as outwardly unappealing as this one. There was a long spell where Lenora, with her mother’s help, nurse him back to health and sobriety, and even though it’s obvious that this is going to be our hero (after a thorough wash and brush up, and a good shave), I took a long time to warm up to him.

But James has one incomparable attraction to Lenora – he’s the caretaker of a romantically abandoned mansion, Heldon Hall, stripped of all its valuables by its previous owner in a fit of vengeful pique, and still empty, now that he’s dead, while the heir is found. James lives a hand-to-mouth existence in the lodge, but he eventually agrees to show her round the manor house, which she thinks is wonderful, despite the dilapidations. And so, although she likes James well enough, it’s the house that Lenora actually falls in love with, and imagines herself as mistress of. Which means, of course, that she will just have to marry the new Lord Heldon, whoever he is.

And so to London, where Lenora tries impatiently to find out something – anything – about Lord Heldon. I confess to a degree of impatience myself at this point, as the story seemed to be treading water for a while, but once Lord Heldon makes his appearance things move along more swiftly. I don’t entirely approve of the secrecy surrounding his identity, but since the secret is revealed fairly swiftly, and his reasons are sound, I can let that pass.

The story is beautifully written, but there are a couple of things that I think would have made it even better. One is to have more interaction between the two principals. There were long spells without any meetings at all, and those sections of the book were of lesser interest to me. It’s not that there was anything wrong with the peripheral stuff, but I really wanted our hero and heroine onstage together.

The other point is a technical one. Given the precise circumstances of James’s background, it might have given the story more depth not to have the hero’s point of view at all (apart from the opening chapter, perhaps), but to see everything from Lenora’s perspective. It would have added a layer of mystery which is entirely absent when we know pretty much everything that’s going on in the hero’s thoughts. But neither of these is particularly critical, they’re just things that I personally would have preferred.

This doesn’t (for me) quite rise to the heights of the first book in the series, but that was a very high bar, and it’s partly because this book features several of the same characters, so the novelty is somewhat lost. Many readers will doubtless be pleased to see familiar faces again, so for them, this will be a plus. In some ways it’s rather a shame that the stars of the first book, Genevieve and Sir Joshua, have so much screen time in this book, since I found them more interesting characters than Lenora and her hero. This story was somewhat uneven in tone, too, with long spells that felt quite slow. Again, a personal opinion only, not a criticism. However, the author evokes the Regency beautifully, and the language feels authentic without being stilted. I noticed a very few Americanisms (a sprinkling of gottens, which didn’t detract from my enjoyment at all). Four stars.

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Review: Two In The Bush by Judith Everett (2020) [Trad]

Posted August 25, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This is apparently a debut novel, although a long time in the brewing, but it’s an astonishing performance. There are few authors who can write in a style that sounds authentically Regency, with the properly structured sentences and correct vocabulary, but here’s one who can. And best of all, that gorgeous prose also manages to create wonderfully real human beings (I can’t even bring myself to call them characters!) who live and breathe and yearn and dream within these pages.

Here’s the premise: Genevieve Breckinridge made a mistake when she married, discovering too late that her handsome husband was a feckless good-for-nothing, who gambled and caroused his way through his fortune and hers. Fortunately for her and her two children, Tom and Lenora, Mr Breckinridge managed to get himself killed before he could dispose of the last unentailed cottage on his estate. This cottage is now home to the three of them and their last loyal servants, while the manor house is rented out and son Tom strives to manage the estate back into profitability. With Lenora about to come out, Genevieve’s good friend Lady Cammersby invites them to London for the season, where Lenora’s friend Elvira Chuddsley will also be enjoying the season. Genevieve hopes that introducing the two girls to real live men will drag them away from the world of Gothic melodrama they find in novels.

But her friend has another motive for her invitation. Her brother Sir Joshua Stiles is a widower who’d love to remarry but is finding it difficult to fend off avaricious women only interested in his considerable fortune. Lady Cammersby sees an opportunity to bring happiness to two people who dearly deserve it, so she dispatches Sir Joshua into the country to deliver the letter of invitation personally. This sets off a catalogue of mishaps that put him into the worst possible mood to appreciate Genevieve’s good qualities, while her propensity to get into scrapes at every turn is just the sort of behaviour to put him off her permanently.

And so the principals find themselves in London in the thick of the season, and Genevieve finds herself falling for this rather serious but very gentlemanly man, who also has a well-hidden sense of the absurd. But there’s a hitch – Lenora also admires him, and it seems that Sir Joshua admires her too. This is the basic plot in a nutshell, and while the reader can see where things are going, it’s also easy to understand why Genevieve can’t. She’s constantly in trouble of one sort or another, for one thing, which causes Sir Joshua to tick her off in disapproving style, so she’s quite convinced he doesn’t even like her, and only tolerates her as the mother of Lenora, with whom his relationship is perfectly smooth.

There is a villain, of course, because what self-respecting Regency romance doesn’t have a villain? He’s rather a chilling one, too, all the more so because the unpleasantness is cloaked in perfect manners. I didn’t quite understand why Genevieve didn’t just give him the cut direct, but her actions made sense to her so I went along with it.

The most delightful sub-plot belongs to the two young friends, Lenora and Elvira, who bring all their experience of Gothic novels to bear on the people they meet, trying to fit them into the essential stereotypes. Their hero is not the charming, wealthy and titled man who falls deeply in love with Elvira, since he obtained his success in life with no effort, but his stammering and impoverished friend, who struggles to overcome his disadvantages. They fall out over which of them is actually the heroine in their story, and struggle to identify the evil duke, so necessary for the true Gothic novel. All of this is very funny, although they do eventually come to appreciate that real life is not a Gothic novel, and thank goodness for that!

There were a few Americanisms, like passed, theater, gotten, chaise lounge and (my personal favourite) sunup, which transported me instantly to a ranch somewhere in Texas, with Sir Joshua garbed in a stetson and chaps. Quite a turn it gave me, I can tell you. There were very few of these little glitches, and the only reason they jumped out at me quite so forcefully is that the rest of the prose is so effortlessly Regency.

I hope the author writes a great many more books, because I absolutely loved this. The first few chapters bogged down a little bit in heavy prose combined with an over-lengthy description of Sir Joshua’s travel difficulties, but once that was done and Genevieve came onstage, with her gloriously mellow and slightly scatterbrained personality, everything was wonderful. Highly recommended. Five stars.

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