To Have and to Hoax: A Novel, by Martha Waters—A Review

To Have and to Hoax by Martha Waters 2020From the desk of Molly Greeley:

A young lady and gentleman are discovered (gasp!) alone on a balcony during a ball, and he must either propose or allow her reputation to be ruined—despite their having met each other only minutes earlier. In her debut novel To Have and to Hoax, Martha Waters takes this time-honored Regency romance trope and uses it deftly to not only throw her hero and heroine together in the first pages of the book but as the fulcrum upon which the rest of the plot turns.

The opening scenes, in which we meet both Lady Violet Grey and Lord James Audley, do a lot of work to establish both their characters in a short space. Violet, who has allowed herself to be led outside the crowded ballroom and onto a deserted balcony by the Marquess of Willingham, a known rake, bears little resemblance to the shy flower for which she’s named. She reads novels clandestinely and speaks up for herself rather than shrinking meekly back into the shadows when she and Willingham are discovered. It is James who discovers them, and though James and Willingham might be good friends, it is clear that James doesn’t approve of kissing virginal young ladies on darkened balconies. But when Willingham departs, James finds himself, despite his scruples, unable to walk away from Violet, who is similarly fascinated by him. They share a scandalous waltz in the darkness of the balcony before her mother’s arrival forces their swift engagement.

When we meet them again, Violet and James have been married for five years, four of which they have largely spent not speaking to one another. Violet spends her days in their London home, entertaining friends, cataloging the library books, writing poetry, and sending letters to the editor of various journals under a male pen name. James, like any well-born Englishman, enjoys time at his club with his friends, but much of his days are also spent managing the lucrative stables his father gifted him upon his marriage to Violet. These stables, we learn early on, have long been a source of tension between the newlyweds; from the earliest days of their marriage, Violet has worried about James’ safety around the unbroken horses and resented the amount of time he spends at the stables. James—who has some serious issues with his frankly horrible father—wishes she could understand that he took the stables both to show his father that he is capable of more than his father gives him credit for and to create extra income, so he could lavish her with a country house. Continue reading