These three Regency era novellas - combining the talents of Mary Balogh and Nicola Cornick (BOTH of which have been previously published in other anthologies) with newcomer, Courtney Milan - take the reader from the streets of London to its glittering ballrooms, with an additional trip to the country. With an additional sprinkling of ice and snow, and a cup or two of mulled wine.
**A Handful of Gold - Mary Balogh (1998)
Knowing that he cannot put off his duty to marry much longer, Julian Dare, Viscount Folingsby, decides to enjoy one last fling over Christmas. But the opera dancer he chooses, Blanche Heyward, is nothing like he anticipated - not to mention determined to enjoy Christmas down to every last tradition.
The jaded rake and the virtuous maiden prepared to make sacrifices for her family may be an old and common tale, but this story is full of charm and Christmas warmth. Julian could have had a little more character beyond his rakishness, but Verity/Blanche sweeps the plot along, until she has a fit of the vapours. Bit of an unnecessary twist before the ending, but otherwise a nice, heart-warming tale.
**The Season for Suitors - Nicola Cornick (2005)
For Clara Davencourt, everything about Sebastian, Duke of Fleet, is an exercise in frustration. Eighteen months ago she proposed to him: he said no. Now, as a wealthy heiress besieged by rakes, she asks for lessons in what to avoid: he says no. In fact, Clara might be forgiven for thinking Seb doesn't like her at all.
Except that he does, too much, but past secrets leave him unable to act. Which means it's up to Clara, once again, to push forward and claim what's between them. Or let it be forever lost.
A good story of self-denial and torment, versus manners and passions. Seb starts out as a jaded, weary rake, but by the end Clara is the one left with all the power. Nothing is resolved, exactly, but then love does apparently conquer all.
**The Wicked Gift - Courtney Milan (New)
Life has broken the hopes and dreams of William White time and again. So when the opportunity arises for him to help the beautiful Lavinia Spencer, William just can't help himself. Especially when he has every intention of her repaying him in kind.
Unusually this novella deals with two people on the edge of poverty, with neither belonging to the nobility or the gentry. Lavinia is a shopkeeper's daughter and William is a clerk. Yet while William is all disenchanted, practical cynicism, Lavinia is a passionate idealist. Poor William has no idea what he's let himself in for.
This is an interesting debut, but Lavinia's actions do feel a little rushed, and her convictions naively sudden at times. It'll be interesting to see how Milan tackles a longer tale, when her first novel comes out (Proof by Seduction
, dealing with the new marquess). On the basis of this novella, she'll be a good addition to the genre.
Three enjoyable novellas with a lovely sprinkling of Christmas cheer. Perfect for the long, chilly nights.