I always look forward to a new Alissa Baxter book. There are very few authors I trust to provide not just a wonderful story but a truly immersive Regency experience, but she’s one of them. This is the third book in the series about the scientific Linfield family, and heroine Georgiana’s interest is in butterflies and insects, and pretty much everything else of a biological nature. There are not many Regency romances where the sentence ‘He had delivered the […] preserved caterpillars to Linfield House’ might appear, but I love a heroine who has her head filled with more than just the latest bonnets.
Here’s the premise: like her sister Harriet before her, science is the great love of her life, and a husband would only feature if he could be useful to her and finance her travels to collect specimens. Not for her the traditional female domain of home and children. She wants a different sort of husband, one doting enough to indulge every whim of hers. Whoever she marries, it definitely won’t be obnoxious Sir Giles Tavistock, whose arrogance led him to suppose she was setting her cap at him, and to say so where she could overhear him. So not even his handsome face or his own interest in entomology makes him palatable to her.
Georgiana is quite happy to go to London and participate in the season – she might meet that doting potential husband, after all. It takes her away from her beloved butterflies and the countryside, but when she discovers her painting skills are in demand to record the collection of an elderly cousin, and then Sir Giles’s, she’s quite reconciled. Of course, we can see where this is going, and just in case we were in any doubt, there’s an instant attraction between her and Sir Giles. Even though he’s not looking for a wife at all, and she’s looking for a very particular kind of husband, they’re drawn to each other.
Needless to say, there are plenty of obstacles to be swerved around before they realise they’re meant for each other. There are some misunderstandings, but quite believable ones, and not a case of a character simply jumping to an illogical conclusion or taking one person’s word for it. They were also cleared up relatively quickly. There was a rival for Georgiana’s affections, and a nice little subplot involving Napoleon – which was true! And kudos to the author for weaving that little gem into the story in a completely natural way, but then she’s always been brilliant at finding unusual nuggets of research to inspire her writing. A previous book had loads about authentic Regency-era curries, for instance.
Of the characters, Georgiana is a very sympathetic heroine. The modern reader can only feel for her, unable to pursue her chosen scientific research openly, and completely bound by the conventions of the day to the domestic sphere. Her attempts to travel and explore the world are very understandable, but her acceptance of reality is sensible, if a little bit sad. I really wanted her to have her trip to Italy, but Regency women just couldn’t have it all, and social norms (not to mention the lack of contraception) kept them at home. Well done the author for tackling that dilemma honestly.
Sir Giles is my favourite kind of hero, the intelligent but silent type, who may be slow to fall in love, but when he knows his own mind, pursues his goal with steady determination. There were a lot of minor characters, too many for me to keep straight, and I wasn’t totally sure of the purpose of all of them, but they certainly made the story feel realistic. Too many Regencies have the same small group of characters who meet up wherever they go, and London seems to be otherwise empty.
This is a lovely traditional read, which follows the time-honoured path of the London season, balls, house parties and drives with eligible gentlemen in curricles, with the added spice of the scientific background and a nice little mystery going on. My over-sensitive pedantometer wasn’t triggered by any anachronisms (although I had to look up ‘Inuit’, which I wasn’t sure was in use then – but it was!). My only grumbles, such as they are, are that I would have liked a bit more passion from the principals (they were a little too restrained for my taste), and the book felt a little samey. Being the third in the series, and all of them featuring a heroine with a strong interest of her own, a strong, silent scientist hero and a somewhat narrow range of settings, there’s a slight sense of deja vu. But that doesn’t matter because the author’s wonderful writing works its magic to make the book a pleasure to read. A good four stars.
I beta-read this book a long time ago, and received a free copy of the pre-release version, but my opinions are my own.