Today marks the official opening of the Regency Romance Reading Challenge 2013, our celebration of Regency romance author Candice Hern. We will be reading all of her traditional Regencies over the next nine months, discussing her characters, plots and Regency history. You can still join the reading challenge until July 1, 2013. Participants, please leave comments and or links to your reviews for this month in the comment section of this post.
We know that we are in for a fun frolic when an author boldly begins the first chapter of a novel with a heroine climbing out a bedroom window to meet her lover during a runaway marriage. No sooner have we drawn another breath when we discover that Lady Gwendolyn Pentwick is not the heroine of A Proper Companion at all, but her mother, an earl’s daughter who has found herself in a family way and been pressured into a patched up marriage to a titled lord who lacks fortune and appeal. Phew. If this lively beginning is the forerunner of what is to follow, hold on to your bonnets and settle into a page-turner.
Flash forward twenty-seven years to 1812 and the Bath townhouse of the Dowager Countess Bradleigh, who while enjoying afternoon tea with her companion Emily Townsend, reads in the newspaper of the betrothal of Augusta Windhurst to her eldest grandson, Robert Cameron, ninth Earl of Bradleigh. Shocked and appalled by his choice of bride she is determined to intercede in this mésalliance. Moments later Robert surprises his grandmother by an unexpected visit to reveal his news only to find his grandmother in an uproar. Calmly he explains his logical reasons for choosing a wife after so many year of bachelorhood. He is feeling his age and wants an heir and Miss Windhurst is everything she desires in a wife: “elegant, cool, supremely aloof, does not giggle, chatter, whimper, swoon or cling.” She finds his attitude cold, calculating and unromantic asking him where the love is in the arrangement?
Lady Bradleigh actually thinks her companion Miss Townsend, an impoverished granddaughter of an earl, is an excellent choice for her grandson and against her former dictum decides to be the matchmaker for them. Standing in her way is Robert’s fiancée and her social climbing family who are thrilled for their daughter to marry an earl. Because no gentleman can break off an engagement, but a lady can, she must find a way for his betrothed to beg off—and convince Emily, a determined spinster, and her grandson, the consummate rogue, that they are a match made in heaven.
Even at the age of 78, no challenge is ever too difficult for the dowager and she sets her plan into action. Sharing Emily’s sad family story with her grandson, she convinces him to help this well-bred but impoverished young lady by introducing her to suitable prospects. The earl, whose reputation as womanizer is known by all, is attracted to his grandmother’s elegant and refined companion who the servants speculate is the daughter of royalty. She is flattered by his attentions, but determined to remain a spinster.
To get herself into the thick of things the countess will go to London and throw an engagement ball there for Robert and his fiancée. Emily is excited to go to London for the first time, but the countess is not happy with her appearance and decides her companion needs a make-over. Emily is very resistant to accepting charity from her employer after her hard-fought independence over the last seven years, but her pride must not jeopardize her continued employment and she accepts the countess’s offer of an updated wardrobe. When Robert sees her in her new frock and softer hair style, he is very taken with her. Maybe the speculation of her parentage is true? Is she a royal by-blow?
They travel to London and stay at the earl’s Grosvenor Square townhouse where future parties bring the reunion of his sister Louisa, the Viscountess Lavenham and her husband, Robert’s betrothed, the reserved and cool nineteen year-old Augusta Windhurst and her social climbing mama, and his many male friends who find the beautiful and intelligent Miss Townsend more than irresistible. Also in Town for the season is a member of Emily’s estranged family, her uncle the Earl of Pentwick and his son the Viscount of Faversham. Emily soon finds the serious attention of a beaux and an enemy from her past among her new acquaintance. Robert soon finds that love should be on the list of requirements for a bride.
What a delight it was to be back in the Regency world of the ton in London and Bath that I have so enjoyed during many Georgette Heyer and Lauren Willig novels. While I adore Jane Austen, she does not use much description of her characters physical appearance nor the setting like they do. This is one aspect of why I enjoy Candice Hern’s novels so much. We are treated to sumptuous detail about the Regency world, especially the clothing:
“It was a dusky rose lustering, with a high waist and low bodice edged with Brussels lace. A dark rose stain ribbon tied around the high waist, just under the bosom, and the ends floated down almost to the hem. The dress emphasized Emily’s tall, slender figure. New pink slippers peeked out from the scalloped hem.” p. 61
Lovely…Another aspect of her writing that I find so diverting is her humor.
“Dog and man collided with a force that sent Lord Bradleigh tumbling on his backside. Charlemagne growled accusingly at him, then made his way to the cherished fauteuil. The earl, thoroughly stunned, looked up at the grinning ladies in confusion.
“You see, Emily,” the dowager drawled, “I told you that gentlemen would be failing at your feet. Behold: your first victim!”” p. 63
Finery and hi-jinks aside, Hern has an elegant, engaging, and energetic way with character, dialogue, and plot development that would make any author green with envy. Her hero Robert was so charming, especially when he was indignant, and her heroine Emily a true diamond of the first water. The story is quickly paced and even though there were a few spots of predictability, there was no reason to repine from this Austen lover who is looking forward to reading all of her traditional Regencies this year.
4.5 out of 5 Regency Stars
A Proper Companion: A Regency Romance, by Candice Hern
Trade paperback (278) pages
A Grand Giveaway
Author Candice Hern has generously offered one print copy or one digital copy of A Proper Companion to one lucky winner. Leave a comment stating what intrigues you about this novel, or if you have read it, who your favorite character is by midnight PT, Wednesday, January 30, 2013. Winner to be announced on Thursday, January 31, 2013. Print book shipment to US addresses only. Digital copy delivery internationally. Good luck!
© Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose