Lately, I've been enjoying some lighter reading, namely several new historical romances by authors that I know will usually turn out a good product. Long time author Jane Feather is one of those writers that I trust; while a few of her novels have bombed for me, most of the time she can keep me interested and entertained enough to finish her stories.
Ms. Feather has started a new series with A Wicked Gentleman, set in the Regency period of London, England. Three ladies, Cornelia, her sister-in-law Aurelia, and their cousin Livia, decide to go to London, each one for different reasons. At first uncertain how they will afford it, a surprise legacy from an unknown relation provides them with a house on the fashionable Cavendish Square.
This particular story centers around Cornelia, the widowed Lady Dagenham. Desperate to keep her two young children with her, Cornelia happily agrees to chaperone Lady Liv, and London provides a welcome respite from the threats of her uncle, who seeks to keep her son, Lord Stevie, from any hint of trouble. The idea of having her son taken away from her haunts Cornelia, especially when the proposed tutor is a bit of a sadist.
But London isn't seeming to be that much of a haven either. For one thing, the townhouse is a wreck, along with three aged servants who have their own attitudes about how things ought to be run. But what may be worst of all is the presence of Harry, Viscount Bonham. Besides being devastatingly handsome (aren't they always?), Harry has quite a few secrets of his own, and he and Nell keep crossing paths.
Unhappily for both Nell and Harry, his secrets, including the rather lurid death of his former wife, and his own reasons for seeking out the trio of ladies may prove to be too much for any hope of romance to survive the ugly truth. It's a tried and true plot that is usually found in romantic historicals, but Jane Feather manages to breathe some new life into the story.
For one, the heroine, isn't the usual sort of ninny that is found in this novel. Cornelia is a grown-up, with a previous life that has left her with children, a touch that is rarely found in these sort of novels. She also has another rare trait -- a sense of humor, and there are several scenes in the novel that are laugh-out-loud funny. Harry is a little too perfect, always managing to show up at just the right moment with hardly a hair out of place, but by the end of the story, there's enough emotional tension going on to overlook that stumbling block. Too, the author doesn't fall into the pit of turning this into yet another book where it's nothing but sexual bouts between the leads, and the plot goes to the wayside. While there are quite a few dangling issues left at the end of the book, it's satisfying enough that it can be read as a stand-alone novel.
The main plot besides the romantic aspect involves a band of French spies trying to get into the house on Cavendish Square to find an object that is hidden there at the begining of the book. For those who might think that this sort of thing is far-fetched and an aristocratic nobleman is working to stop them, the truth may surprise them.
The secondary characters, Aurelia and Liv along with Harry's assistant, Lester, and the children, are fairly well-fleshed out, and provide some lighter touches and help to keep the story a bit more balanced than a constant 'he-said, she-said.' One interesting thread involves Lady Sophie, the desceased previous owner of the house, and the little clues that are scattered throughout the novel that indicate that she may not have been everything that she seemed. I can only hope that the future novels in the series will explore this angle a bit more.
Ms. Feather's writing style is fluid, and clear of anachronisms. Her knowledge of the time-period -- the early nineteenth centure -- is evident in how her characters behave and act. Regency society was one of those where reputation was everything and unlike most modern writers, Ms. Feather puts it to good use in the story.
Summing up, it's a good novel of this type, and better than most to be found in this genre. One of the best parts about this writer is that she works to maintain her consistancy of writing good stories that provide an evening's entertainment. I will continue to look for her forthcoming novels in her Cavendish Square series, as yet unnamed.