This is the third book I’ve read by Dorothy Mack, who is releasing a mass of books from the 90s. This one was published in 1993, and it’s a deeply traditional style of story – wordy and introspective rather than passionate, and very much focused on the London season. For anyone yearning for the wordsmithery of Heyer, this may very well be what you’re looking for. Those who enjoy the lighter, dialogue-heavy modern style may find it a bit heavy, however.
Here’s the premise: Dinah Elcott has been raised by a neglectful father and a semi-invalid aunt in the country, in seclusion. Her physical needs cared for, she’s never known open affection, so she’s grown into a reserved, rather detached young lady, her only joy her painting. When her father wants her to spend a season in London, he tempts her with the prospect of art lessons while she’s there. Her sponsor into society, Natasha Talbot, is delighted to spend the lavish sum Dinah’s father provides for clothes and introduce her to society. And there to help is her husband’s brother, Charles Talbot, a man with the jaded air and acerbic tongue of the cynic, with whom Dinah instantly falls out.
These two made for a fascinating couple. Both of them are in a sense set apart from society, Dinah because she’s never been taught how to interact with others and doesn’t care enough to try, and Charles because he’s deliberately created an uncaring persona as a shield. Both of them hide their true feelings very successfully, and I very much enjoyed watching them mellow and open themselves up to the possibility of love.
I have to confess that I was disappointed by the romantic denouement, most of which is explained in a lengthy narrative so that we are told of their change of feelings but never really see it developing. There are very few moments where Charles, for instance, who is the first to appreciate his own heart, begins to behave in a more lover-like way towards Dinah. In fact, he is very generous towards her right from the start, both with his efforts to help her develop her artistic talent and the time he devotes to squiring her about town and dancing attendance on her at social functions. The significant moment where he suddenly realises he loves her is told after the event in a fairly dry style. This is very much in keeping with the era in which it was written, and is modelled on Georgette Heyer’s own style, but to the modern reader it feels a little flat.
One word of warning. Several of the minor characters seem to have some kind of history that suggests their stories were told in earlier books. This doesn’t spoil the read, but if you like to read everything in sequence, it would be worth seeking out the earlier books. But for those looking for an old-fashioned Regency who don’t mind the wordiness, this presses all the buttons. Elegantly written, with two unusual characters at its heart, as well as some well-drawn minor characters, it’s an excellent read. Four stars.