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This review is from: Quadrille (Mass Market Paperback)Marion Chesney is a prolific writer of Regency romances: she also writes mystery stories under the name M.C. Beaton.
This story begins on the eve of the battle of Waterloo, with a description of a ball at which four couples, two recenty married, one engaged, and one pair of rich but vulgar social climbers, dance the Quadrille. The couples bowed and curtsied. "They crossed and recrossed, weaving out the patterns of the dance, sometimes dancing with their own partner, sometimes with someone else's." And they did not know "that they could at that moment have been acting out a pattern of their lives to come."
Marion Chesney's 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 very 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 heroine of this story is newly married heiress Lady Mary Challenge. She had known perfectly well that her handsome bridegroom, Colonel Lord Hubert Challenge, was marrying her for her money to save his ancestral home. However, Mary had naively hoped that love would blossom in this arranged marriage. So far it has failed to do so, and Mary is concerned that her husband's "old friend", Lady Clarissa Thorndike, seems to be paying much more attention to Mary's husband than to her own fiance, Lord Peregrine.
The other couples present at the dance are newlyweds Major Frederick Godwin and his wife Lucy, and a cartoonishly vulgar pair of social climbers, Mr & Mrs Witherspoon.
Most romances in this genre start by describing the circumstances of a young single woman, or of a hero returning home from the Napoleonic wars, or both, and describe their path to the altar. This one, however, starts with with the heroine and the other sympathetic characters as unhappy newlyweds. Her path to happiness is rather less prim and proper, and the humour in the book much darker, than is usual for the genre.
The story nevertheless includes most of the classic Regency Romance cliches, including the heroine's fear for her loved one during the battle of Waterloo, 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 dramatic abduction of the heroine, etc, etc, etc.
There is some good use of drama and humour, usually quite well done.
The main thing which pulls this story down from five stars to four is the social-climing Mr & Mrs Witherspoon. The reader is obviously not meant to like this caricature of socially ambitious but wealthy seekers after respectability. I was rather irritated by the way in which two people who wanted to better themselves were set out as villains, so I was perversely determined to like them. Unfortunately Marion Chesney does too good a job of making them horrible. Their actions are also quite implausible in some places, and their ghastliness does not enhance the book.
As with many of her novels, Chesney throws in little snippets of real historical detail throughout the story. Some readers will enjoy these, others may find them poorly integrated into the narrative and that they can come over as lecturing.
Bottom line, if you have read and enjoyed some of Marion Chesney's regency romances such as the "Six Sisters," "Daughters of Mannerling," "A House for the Season" or "Poor Relation" series, you will probably like this one. It is two steps up from the "School for Manners" or "Travelling Matchmaker" books. However, it is still not in the same league as Georgette Heyer, let alone Jane Austen.