Here’s the premise: Lady Jane Brooke is the much neglected daughter of a marquis and marchioness who are far too wrapped up in their own affairs to think about her needs. When she reaches an age when she absolutely must be launched into society, they neglect to send a serviceable carriage for her, and she has to take a dilapidated vehicle which eventually expires in Oxford. The resourceful Jane, accompanied by her governess, Miss Gracechurch (Gracie) and her maid Ellie, haven’t enough money to hire a post chaise, so it will have to be the mail coach. When it falls into a ditch right outside the Earl of Wintringham’s gates in thick fog, Jane is determined to seek shelter within. The curmudgeonly earl (my lord Winter from the title) is all for throwing them all out into the fog, but when the Dowager Countess, his aunt, says the same thing, he prefers to thwart her by inviting them all to stay.
To say they’re a motley bunch doesn’t do them justice. Apart from Jane and Gracie, there are a lawyer, a loudmouthed northern industrialist and two undergraduates who’ve been rusticated. All of which enlivens the earl’s dinner table no end. This part of the book is very funny, and Jane’s attempts to wrest something resembling conversation from the earl start to bear fruit when he’s revealed to be an interesting companion behind the steely exterior. They spend enough time together before the fog lifts to begin to have some feelings for each other.
If this were all, it wouldn’t be much to write home about, but the central conceit of the plot is that Jane has been travelling on the mail coach as plain Miss Jane Brooke, so as not to attract unwanted attention to herself. She’s relieved to find that the earl and his aunt rarely come to town and never attend grand social events, so Jane’s unlikely to meet them there. She decides, therefore, not to explain who she really is. Who would believe her anyway? A girl in unfashionable clothes travelling on the mail coach is hardly likely to be the daughter of a marquis.
The rest of the book involves Jane making her come-out in London, while going to increasingly implausible lengths to avoid meeting the marquis publicly, when her deception will be revealed. Instead, he seeks her out through the lawyer from the coach, and she meets him many times in her guise as Miss Jane Brooke, and they visit the many attractions of the city, like Astley’s Amphitheatre and the Tower of London. Some reviews find the continued deception too difficult to believe in, but to my mind it’s very much in tune with the spirit of Georgette Heyer, who wrote many heroines who became increasing illogical in their attempts to cling to the original lie and avoid owning up. There are shades of Arabella here, partly with the breakdown outside the gates of an unfriendly man, but mainly because the last quarter of that book involves Arabella’s increasingly convoluted machinations, where all that was needed was for her to tell the hero the truth. So I forgive this book for following the same pattern, and the eventual resolution is very sweet and quite moving.
A lovely traditional Regency, very much in the Heyer style, beautifully written, and if you find the main couple not to your taste, there are two other charming romances to enjoy. Five stars.