This book kicks off the "Six Sisters" series of humorous Regency romances, each of which has as its central character one of the six daughters of the Reverend Armitage, a warm-hearted but reprobate "squarson" (a word formed by combining squire and parson, which was a nickname used at the time for a vicar who acted more like a local dignitary than a man of God.) The Reverend Armitage would much rather hunt or enjoy himself than preach or look after his parishioners.
But by the winter of 1811, when this book starts, this behaviour combined with several bad harvests in the two farms which he owns, have left him in severe financial difficulties. So he decides that the eldest of his six daughters, Minerva, must rescue the family fortunes by making a rich marriage. This book tells the story of how Minerva, who is very beautiful (which was an asset on the marriage market), highly intelligent (which wasn't) and has a strong propensity for saying exactly what she thinks (which is disastrous) eventually does find a husband, but with plenty of amusing upsets along the way.
The full sequence of titles in "The Six Sisters" series is:
1) This book, "Minerva"
2) The Taming of Annabelle (The Six Sisters Series)
3) Deirdre and Desire (The Six Sisters Series)
4) Daphne (The Six Sisters Series)
5) Diana the Huntress (The Six Sisters Series)
6) Frederica in Fashion (The Six Sisters Series)
There is more than a little character development through the series, so although the books can stand on their own they are best read in the above order, starting with this one.
The author is a prolific writer of detective stories, including the Hamish MacBeth and Agatha Raisin books, and also of regency romances. Up to now she has usually published the former as M.C. Beaton and the latter as Marion Chesney, and this series was originally published under that second pen-name, but it has now been republished under the "M.C. Beaton" label, so to speak.
This was the first of her books which I ever read (many years ago now), and probably the one which gave me most pleasure. The author's romance novels vary considerably in sophistication: even her simplest ones are at least slightly more challenging than most of the trashy regency romances on the market, while her best romances - of which this is one - are considerably better than the average for the genre but still a rung downmarket from Georgette Heyer or several rungs down from Jane Austen.
The story nevertheless includes most of the classic Regency Romance cliches. The naive, headstrong young heroine who meets an imposing but sinister man with whom she initially gets off entirely on the wrong foot, but who usually turns out to be the hero; the snobbish wealthy parents of one partner in the romance; the proud but penniless aristocrats; the heroine's scheming rival; servants with a heart of gold; a villain hiding behind a mask of respectability; various social successes and disasters in front of the 'ton' (high society) at formal balls; the heroine makes a complete fool of herself and nearly gets ruined/elopes/is dramatically abducted but is rescued by the hero, etc, etc, etc ...
Two things lift this book above the general run of regency romances. The first is that it does not take itself too seriously and has some good use of humour. The second is that where Beaton gives her sympathetic characters views or attitudes which are essential to keep the regard of modern readers but which were by no means universal at the time, such as a belief in education for women or opposition to slavery, she is open about the fact.
For example, the Armitage family do have a horror of slavery. The slave trade was made illegal in 1807 precisely because there really were people in George III's Britain who disapproved of this immoral trade so strongly as to want it banned even though it was then highly lucrative, but their view was by no means unanimous. Chesney explains this, adds why the heroine and her sisters were among those who did despise slavers, and integrates it well into the story.
This is one of many little nuggets of real historical information which, as with many of her novels, Beaton throws in throughout the story. Some readers will enjoy these: in some of tthe other books other readers may find them poorly integrated into the narrative and that they can come over as lecturing. I didn't have that problem with "Minerva."
Bottom line, if you have read and enjoyed any of the other romances which Beaton published as Marion Chesney, such as the "Daughters of Mannerling," "A House for the Season" or "Poor Relation" series, you will very probably like this one. It is definately a step up from the "School for Manners" or "Travelling Matchmaker" books, or from the majority of modern books in the genre.