To be considered over the hill at age twenty-six seems outrageous today, but in Regency times, young ladies married in their mid-teens or became spinsters who cared for their parents and siblings children. Tragically our heroine Rosie, eldest daughter of Sir Edmund Lacey of Wycombe Hall, Devonshire, did not have a choice to marry young and now resides “on the shelf” where Society places ladies who are not deemed marriageable.
Since her mother’s early demise ten years ago, she has quietly raised her five siblings without complaint. Now that they are all settled, and she can think of herself beyond being a substitute nanny/housekeeper/mother, she discovers that she too is afflicted with the same malady that took her mother’s life. With only six months to live she wants to “burst out of her tight laces before it is too late” and experience everything she has been deprived of: a life in London away from her dry as a twig father and overbearing younger sister to discover the delights of Society, the opera, theatre, museums and a bit of scandalous romance too. Who better to introduce her to the life she craves than her notorious Aunt Fanny? Against her family’s wishes, she sets off for Miss Lacey’s Last Fling.
Widow Frances, Lady Parkhurst is not keen to chaperone her priggish, docile, country mouse niece who lands on her Berkeley Square doorstep. Her young friend, the notorious rake Maxwell Davenant, does not think much of her obligation to help her niece and immediately decline any assistance in the endeavor. After eighteen seasons and half of his life spent in pursuit of women, drink, and gambling, he is bored to distraction. This dowdy Miss does not interest him in the least. Whatever could Fanny be thinking? The absurdity of Lady Parkhurst being a chaperone to any respectable young lady was, however, delightfully intriguing.
Rosie arrives all wide-eyed and frumpy as expected, but immediately surprises her aunt with the admission that she is not there to entrap a husband—but to see the sights and have a good time. She confides that she has always admired her aunt because she did exactly what she wanted to do, and now she wants to do the same, starting with a complete makeover. She wants to look “sophisticated, worldly and rightly flirt with a rake.” Her surprising honesty wins Lady Parkhurst over and they set their plan in motion: off to the dressmaker for a completely new wardrobe of brightly colored frocks and to the hairdresser to shear off her long locks into a fashionably cropped style.
Her first official social outing is a rout filled with “fresh-faced young fops to seasoned rakes to aging roués,” and one jaded Max Davenant who does not recognize the ravishing young lady standing next to Lady Parkhurst receiving all the attention in the room. Rosalind’s nose is still too long and her mouth too wide to be considered a reputed beauty, but she cuts a dashing figure in her new frock and sheared hairstyle. He is intrigued. Could a man tainted by years of debauchery and seduction be interested in a twenty-six-year-old anti-debutant who has no interest in marriage and just wants to have fun? Heck YES!
After a private conversation with the notorious Max on the terrace, Rosie can now mark flirting with a rake off her list of what she wants to experience. Here’s what’s next:
- Visit the Tower of London
- Drive a sporting vehicle
- Ride in a sedan chair
- Be thoroughly kissed
Max and Aunt Fanny aid in her headlong fling through London Society scandalizing matrons at Almack’s, sipped gin with the Dandies and Corinthians at the Daffy Club and to gamming hell on Jermyn Street. There is nothing she won’t try when consequences do not signify. Max and Rosie appear to be complete opposites, but are they?
A fun frolic from beginning to end, I have not been so thoroughly entertained in years. I laughed; I cried, and could not put it down. You too will be delighted by Miss Lacey and her unabashedly adventurous spirit. Who could not love a woman who during a time when social decorum and appearances were everything, she throws propriety out the window and turns society on its ear? Hern’s historical research is as impeccable as always, but it is her characterizations that really shine. From the hysterically over-the-top Aunt Fanny (the Aunty Mame of the Regency Ton) and the depraved lost soul of Max Davenant, you will be charmed and enchanted with every scene. Following Rosie or the transformed Rosalind, on her journey will send you into peals of laughter with her high spirits and outrageous antics. Rosie might have started off as a milk and water miss, but Rosalind is a diamond of the first water!
5 out of 5 Stars
Miss Lacey’s Last Fling: A Regency Romance, by Candice Hern
Trade paperback (232) pages
Cover image courtesy of Candice Hern © 2012; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2013, Austenprose