This ludicrous but enjoyable little farce is a regency romance set in 1813, towards the end of the Napoleonic wars and while Britain and America were at odds in the "War of 1812".
The story begins at the (very fictional) "Cyprians' ball" and the first sentence of the book gives an idea of the humour which is to run through it:
"The Cyprians' Ball was scarcely an event that featured on the social calendar of any of the debutantes of the ton, though more than one bitter chaperon had observed that it was the only place outside of the clubs where all the eligible batchelors could be found."
Two prominent families from Devon in the English West Country - the Mostyns and the Trevithicks - have been at daggers drawn since they backed opposite sides in the British civil wars nearly two centuries earlier. A couple of generations before this story, a notorious head of the Trevithick family - nicknamed the "Evil Earl" - had obtained Fairhaven, a small but fertile (and equally fictional) island in the Bristol Channel, from the Mostyn family in dubious circumstances.
Lady Elizabeth (Beth) Allerton, nee Mostyn, has been brought up on romantic legends giving the Mostyn family side of how the "Evil Earl" stole Fairhaven from her grandfather. It has been her lifelong ambition to reclaim the island. Beth is a young and wealthy widow, having married the elderly Sir Frank Allerton when she was seventeen: the marriage was reasonably happy but brief, her husband behaving to her more like an indulgent parent than a spouse, but he died within a few years of their wedding.
Having been left sufficient funds to do so by her late husband, Beth Allerton tried twice to buy back Fairhaven Island, but the old earl was not interested. When he died, she was about to make a new offer to buy the island - when at the start of this book chance presents her with an opportunity to win the island through an outrageous wager ...
Marcus Trevithick, a handsome man in his late twenties who has recently inherited the earldom from his grandfather the "Evil Earl," is trying to sort out the mess into which his predecessor had allowed the estates to fall during his latter years. He isn't ready to take a wife but has an eye for a pretty girl, hence his attendance at the "Cyprians' ball" a masked event supposedly for the demi-mondaines rather than respectable women. Seeing the most beautiful woman in the room dancing with Lord Mostyn, the head of the family who are the arch rivals of his own, he is unable to resist asking her for the next dance. He has no idea what will follow ...
Quite nonsensical but good fun, with a cast of mostly likeable characters and some good use of humour. Not a book for the politically-correct - at one point Beth Allerton's obsession with regaining Fairhaven makes her behave in ways which are so over-the-top that the infuriated Marcus Tevithick threatens to put her over his knee.
There are two romantic sub-plots affecting other members of the Trevithick and Mostyn families, and one of these in particular is left hanging at the end. That story, the romance between Marcus's sister Eleanor and Beth's cousin Christopher (Kit) Lord Mostyn, is told in the sequel, The Notorious Marriage.