This book is what people are talking about when they say "a Regency romp!" Jessica Benson has penned an *amazingly* good first novel with "Lord Stanhope's Proposal". The writing is excellent, the characters delightful and the plot an intricately woven comedy of manners (and errors!) The book reads like a cross between Georgette Heyer and Julia Quinn--and I mean that as high praise!
The heroine of the story, Miss Calista Ashton, is a 24 year old spinster and blue-stocking with a sharp wit, good heart and terrible clothes sense. She is the sister of a brandy-swilling vicar in a small village. When the Hon. Oswald Cravanndish (Ossie) is ordered by his formidable mother to rusticate and find a suitable bride (following an ignominious dive into Sally Jersey's punchbowl), he and his equally frivolous friends, Nev and Squibby, cook up a plan to travel to their friend, Elmo Lyttworth's, village and pretend to court the village spinster (Calista). Unfortunately, this plan is accompanied by bets being placed in the books at their club regarding the odds of Ossie's courtship meeting with success. Recognizing that his foolish cousin has endangered the reputation of an innocent lady, Tristan Rutherford-Hayes, Lord Stanhope, travels to the village as well in an attempt to defuse the situation and rescue the lady's reputation. And that is only the beginning of an extremely complicated and amusing plot....
Tristan, the Earl of Stanhope, is a marvelous hero--jaw-droppingly handsome, fabulously wealthy, intelligent, charming, honorable and sexy. Bored with his string of vacuous mistresses and empty-headed society debutantes, he is challenged by Calista's wit and charmed by her lack of artifice. Calista, for her part, cannot believe that such a gorgeous paragon would really be interested in her. But the two are seldom left to ponder their blossoming love in peace, as alternative suitors and interfering chaperones pop in and out of the story at a delicious pace.
The story does follow the plot of Georgette Heyer's "The Nonesuch" in general terms--a Corinthian, a paragon of society, and a confirmed bachelor, visits a small provincial village (that goes ga-ga over having such an august presence in their midst!) and ends up falling in love with the local spinster. Tristan is even referred to as "the Nonesuch" in this story and some of the dialogue is pure Heyer. To my mind, Jessica Benson has *improved* on the story since I always have thought that the hero and heroine in "The Nonesuch" were rather bland and uninteresting (and Tristan and Calista are definitely not that!) The secondary characters in "Lord Stanhope's Proposal" are also wonderfully well-drawn (although there is no one character to equal the pure brilliance of "The Nonesuch"'s beautiful, self-absorbed schemer, Tiffany Wield!)
In summary, this is a charming, delightful romance that lovers of the Regency sub-genre should *adore*.