Here’s the premise: Jennifer Purchas is a seventeen-year-old heiress whose father’s death leaves her in the hands of her uncle, who seems to be more interested in her fortune than in her welfare. When he informs her that she is to marry a stranger, a friend of her dead brothers who asked him to look after her, she runs away to her friend, who finds her a position as a governess. This goes on swimmingly until the children’s bad-tempered guardian appears, but just when Jenny has persuaded him that a beautiful and hoydenish girl of seventeen is, in fact, a perfectly sensible choice of governess (only in a Regency romance, methinks), her wicked uncle kidnaps her. She runs away again, this time to London, where she finds herself caught up in a riot and fortuitously rescued by the very same bad-tempered guardian, who deposits her with his eccentric grandmother (a duchess!). So Jenny, under a false name, is thrust into the whirlwind of the season, where her beauty and liveliness soon attract swarms of suitors. Of course they do. Sigh.
I almost bailed at this point, but somehow I kept going, wading through the positive swamp of tropes. Let me list some of the principal ones. The beautiful runaway heiress, check. The grumpy hero, check. The great misunderstanding, check (also known as not seeing what was blindingly obvious). The wicked guardian. The wicked rake. The manipulative aunt with a rival daughter. The mass of coincidences. The heroine who doesn’t spot danger (until it’s too late, naturally). The hero who doesn’t bother to tell the heroine that he loves her until the very last chapter. The secret note that draws the heroine to a secluded spot (yawn). And so on and so on.
Now some of this is great fun. I loved the moments where the heroine got herself out of trouble, although I have to confess that her propensity for running away got very tedious. I counted four separate occasions, which is at least two too many. I disliked it when she had to depend on the hero turning up at a vital moment to rescue her (which I think happened twice), but mostly Jenny looked after herself, and managed a certain amount of looking after other people, too. A resourceful lass.
I also liked the period in London, which slips straight into a very traditional form of Regency romance, with balls and masquerades and duels and the whole panoply that Georgette Heyer drew on. The author effortlessly weaves real people and events into the story (again, a Heyer trait), which adds a certain authenticity to proceedings. But the hero is also Heyer-esque, the grumpy, sneering, macho type that is really not my favourite type. I’m more of a Freddy Standen fangirl, myself – give me a gentle, understated hero every day of the week. And the hero’s bad temper gets him into trouble time after time (and gets the heroine into trouble, too).
There weren’t too many historical missteps, although (as so often in Regencies) the author takes liberties with the marriage laws. No, you can’t actually force anyone to marry against their will, not if you want the marriage to be legal, no, a guardian can’t marry off his ward to his own financial advantage, and no, you definitely can’t have anyone marry under a false name – that’s fraud and the marriage would be illegal to boot. But since none of these proposed irregularities actually came to pass, I can let them go.
One that I can’t let go is the question of Jenny’s guardian. It seems her father neglected to name a guardian in his will (or the named guardian had died, not sure about that). That does NOT mean that her uncle would automatically take over the role, and if he did, he wouldn’t have control of her finances as well as her person. There would have been trustees for the fortune and the Court of Chancery would appoint a guardian for Jenny herself. Since she was over 14, Jenny would legally be able to nominate her own choice of guardian. So she would never have been quite so helplessly under the control of her uncle (although of course that would have spoilt the story!).
This was a mixed bag for me. I liked the well-evoked Regency, the deft use of real history and the feisty and resourceful heroine, even if she made some stupid mistakes sometimes. I disliked the grumpily bad-tempered hero who is the very antithesis of Regency restraint. But even though it didn’t entirely work for me, it’s still a well-realised traditional-style Regency that I know many readers will absolutely love. I’d like to give it three and a half stars, but given the sheer weight of unlikable tropes, I’ll settle for three stars. But I’d like to try another of the author’s works that might suit me better.