This is a very hard book to characterize. Neither the "villain" nor the heroine are what they appear to be at first.
Miss Emmalie Marlowe is just a shrinking violet along the garden path. Her mother, ever beautiful and elegant, decides that Emmalie will become engaged to Reginald Lancaster, Viscount of Wynncliff, a handsome popular member of the ton. Shrinking violet no longer, Emmalie refuses and then decides to accept - with conditions. If Wynncliff can pass a few tests, she will marry him. The "tests" are unusual and witty - and I will NOT give them away.
This is a sweeping romance that takes you through elegant ballrooms, romantic castles, onstage, and in Prinny's conservatory! I couldn't tell where our heroine would pop up next. Along the way, Wynncliff tries to save his reputation but loses his heart.
There are many moments when the story could have been made sappy (ok - I would have liked a little more sappy!) but instead flows on allowing us to meet all sorts of unusual people and animals from mastiff to lion, actors to lisping noblemen, uncaring mother? to close friends and companions. Some of the situations were a bit hard to believe, but remembering this is fiction, I enjoyed every word! Highly recommend - I read it in one sitting!