Pros: A first class novel that has plenty of wit and sparkle to it.
Cons: Well, the language takes a little getting use to.
There is a sub-set of the romance novel that I enjoy very much at times, known as the Regency. Set in the years between 1800 and 1820 or so, the Regency novel is one that focuses on the relationships between the upper classes, and a very strict code of conduct and speech. Unlike most romance novels written today -- but this is changing -- the focus isn't on sexual encounters, but rather the witty turn of phrase, the elegance and the yearning between the hero and heroine that isn't quite satisfied until the end of the novel and the HEA is assumed. While some might think this is boring, it can actually be quite interesting, and when it comes to the settings, most authors are clever enough to use actual historical figures and events to add plenty of colour to the story.
In my own opinion, the queen of the Regency novel, and who pretty much built the genre, was Georgette Heyer. Her stories had plenty of romantic tension, but not the emphasis on sex which seems so prevalent these days, period details, and people that you could emphasize with, and who made plenty of mistakes.
Especially the heroine in April Lady, Lady Cardross, newly married, and still trying to find her footing as a wife and a leading member of Society. Nell is a dear, sweet thing, but she's not quite certain about her husband, the rather cool tempered Earl of Cardross. Indeed, it could be said that she's rather afraid of him, especially when the bills come due, and despite her best efforts, she can't seem to keep the spending down.
And even that doesn't gain her more than a very gentle reprimand from her husband over a very civilized breakfast. However, the hint is there that he will have the bills sent directly to him if Nell doesn't start cutting back. And therein lays the problem, for Nell has been telling a little lie to her husband, she hasn't been losing money at the gaming tables as she confessed, but rather slipping the money to her spendthrift, somewhat moronic brother, Viscount Dysart.
And that little lie is compounded by the fact that the dressmaker is about to dun her, and poor Nell keeps finding bills that haven't been paid for. Terrified that she is going to lose her husband, she doesn't dare say the truth, but tries to muddle her way through the mess. Which keeps getting more complicated the more she tries to fix things.
Toss in the fact that two of her husband's friends are men that wouldn't mind helping her out of the financial situation, and Nell's once comfortable life starts to take a tumble. Not to mention her harebrained brother decides that he's going to try and solve the problem by playing highwayman and 'stealing' her jewelry...
There's also a subplot involving Nell's best friend Letty, and her own marriage to another wonderful man, but Letty is finding out that after the honeymoon, her husband is far more interested in politics than his very pretty wife. Which has left Letty heartbroken, as she's done the unfashionable thing and fallen in love with him...
I'll be honest, this is a lighthearted romp, but a good one. The wit and situations shine with clever dialog, a spot-on interpretation of the history and manners of the time, and a sense of being there. I can forgive an author a great deal if the setting is done well, or the characters are well-drawn. And here, it's Nell who captures both sympathy and our attention.
After all, the Regency period was a time when most women could not legally control their own money, and if he so desired a husband could -- and many did -- would give a woman an allowance or nothing at all. It might seem a trivial matter to our modern eyes, but I liked how Ms. Heyer used it as the main drive of the novel to start with, then turned it into a story about trusting your partner or spouse, and just how easily it could be to lose that trust. It still is an effective plot device and I enjoyed how our two married coupled finally managed to overcome their differences. Certainly it's a rehash of that romantic cliché, the Big Misunderstanding, but in Heyer's hands, it's a cliché that works.
All in all, this one is not too bad to start off with if you intend to read this author's work, and those already familiar with Georgette Heyer should find it enjoyable. Overall, four stars and a hearty recommendation.
Other Georgette Heyer novels:
An Infamous Army
Many thanks to the Books CL, Dramastef who was able to add this title to the database for me.
1957, 2005; Arrow Books, Random House UK