I read this after reading Isabella (which is the prequel, and the first book written by Chase - review to follow). THE ENGLISH WITCH is the story of Basil Trevelyan, cousin of the hero in Isabella and also the villain. Chase does something similar to Mary Balogh in her various "series", in that she redeems the villain in this book. So, be warned if you do not like this kind of plot.
The plot is not largely set in Albania, despite what the blurbs and the reviews say. If you do not like exotic locales, avoid this book, even though the Albanian scenes are relatively small.
This book, like the other early books by Chase, is a traditional Regency, which means no explicit sex (by and large) and the hero and the heroine behaving within the documented constraints of the Regency society. [I am beginning to different traditional Regencies from Regency historicals, by whether the hero and heroine adhere to social norms and customs or whether they act on the extremes of said customs and whether they behave and think like Regency people or 20th century people. Length alone is no longer a good judge, nor is explicit lovemaking]. If you love the Regency historicals by Chase, some of which are very very good, you will find this book and others like it more disappointing.
I was delighted by this book, which is hard to find and out of print (I obtained my copy via inter-branch loan at my public library). I also deeply regret that Walker and Avon no longer publish traditional Regencies, since both companies published some of the best works by Chase and Jo Beverley (and some others no longer writing Regency romances).
Now to the plot - Basil Trevelyan, the villain of ISABELLA, has redeemed himself by hard work and some service of a mysterious kind (perhaps spying) to the Crown. He has also managed to make his own fortune with the help of Isabella's aunt. Basil is in Greece when a letter from his aunt asks him to help out a young Englishwoman travelling in Albania with her father and fiance, both archaelogists and historians.
Alexandra has a problem or rather several problems. She is not interested in marrying her fiance, who has been foisted on her to repay her father's debt to said fiance's father. Furthermore, her fiance is completely uninterested in her as a woman. This would be bad enough; things turn worse when his indifference to his fiancee is interpreted by love-struck Albanian males as encouragement to court Alexandra. One such young Albanian in fact carries off Alexandra, intending to make her his wife. This, not unnaturally, upsets his family for several reasons, one being that Alexandra is known as the "English Witch" for her unearthly beauty.
Alexandra is rescued by Basil, who is pretending to be her secret fiance who has been out in the world making his fortune. Using this story, Alexandra persuades her father to delay her forthcoming marriage. When she returns to England, she has few doubts about her continuing problems. First, there is her unworldly and exasperating father's debts. His creditor will not accept repayment of those debts, preferring a marriage to Alexandra (which is to raise his family socially). Secondly, there is the problem that Alexandra's beauty does not mean that she will win honorable offers. In fact, the beautiful Alexandra Ashmore (?) has been plagued in the past by the most dishonourable proposals possible - which was why her father took her off to Albania and arranged her marriage to suit himself.
Basil, naturally, is not immune to the English Witch. Fortunately for Alexandra, the heir to a dukedom catches sight of her and is determined to make her his bride. Definitely honorable. There are of course some minor problems. Firstly, Basil continues his attentions to Alexandra, although more subtly (partly in an old rivalry with Lord Arden, the new suitor; partly because he is really interested in Alexandra). Secondly, Alexandra's father's debt has grown mysteriously, and she is not sure as to whether she can get out of her engagement (her real one, not her pretend one to Basil). Thirdly, the Marquess of Arden is not the most faithful suitor, tending to be distracted by pretty neighbors and the like. And of course, he has his own idealized view of her, which will not distract him from future womanizing. Basil has a dreadful reputation as well, and in fact, had left England in disgrace.
So Alexandra hardly has great choices. She cannot jilt her fiance, because of her father's debt. She feels she should not marry Arden, because he will be an inconsistent husband and one who intends to keep her on a pedestal. And Basil is out of the question, of course.
Who will Alexandra marry? There is a thwarted elopement (which had me in stitches), there is the sister of Lord Arden who feels (perhaps rightly) that he *must* marry Alexandra, if only because he is throwing away his last chance of redemption otherwise. There is Basil's own strange behavior. There is Alexandra's father who is strongly opposed to any match with Basil. There is of course the Debt. And there are all those relations of Isabella who have a bone to pick with Basil (from his behavior in the previous book).
This was a delightful novel. I was rooting at different times for different men, and wondering how Alexandra would find a satisfactory compromise between the needs of her father, social constraints, and her own wish for a stable and successful marriage. At one time, I thought that she had made the wrong choice - but hoped that her husband would turn out satisfactorily. ...I would strongly recommend this book to any lover of Regency romance - and commend it along with KNAVES WAGER (my favorite Chase book) as worthy of inclusion on the all-time best list. If you can, read ISABELLA before this, to understand precisely why Basil was so abhorrent to Alexandra's father and some of his own relations. However, this novel can stand on its own.