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Four inter-connected tales
on 7 March 2003
Lady Whistledown is a fairly unique concept. Created and used mostly in Julia Quinn's work, she has been borrowed by other writers in the past. Here 4 well known authors, including Quinn herself, each write a short story connected by being in the same time frame and by the writings of Lady Whistledown's Society Papers.
'One True Love' by Suzanne Enoch tells the story of Lady Anne Bishop, who has been engaged since childhood to Maximilian Trent - Marquis of Halfurst. Maximilian's estates are in Yorkshire, and Anne's life is set squarely in London. Anne is taking advantage of her long-standing engagement with the fiancé she has never seen by essentially doing whatever she wants, within the confines of society. Maximilian has heard of some of her (rather mild) exploits and has come down to London to reclaim his bride. Only to find when he got there that he actually desires his bride, and wants her to choose him over the suitors she doesn't seem to be aware that she has collected. Rather than bully his way into her life, he sets out to win her love.
In Karen Hawkin's 'Two Hearts' Lady Elizabeth Pritchard has recently found there is an emptiness in her life. An eccentric, determined woman, she has realised that it is likely that she wants to be married. Although not regarded as a great beauty, she has a style all her own and is generally speaking unafraid of what society thinks of her - and thus society tolerates her and even adopts some of her weirder trends as their own. Liza decides on Lord Durham and soon her best friend Margaret Shelbourne and her brother Sir Royce Pemberley are in on the plan. Meg and Liza have been like sisters, and Royce and Liza the closest of friends for many years. Royce finds himself utterly thrown by the realisation that Liza may be marrying sometime soon, and likely removed from his circle for months at a time thereafter. He comes to the realisation that he wants her for his own. Now to make a woman that already knows him all to well understand that he is, for the first time, completely serious.
Mia Ryan's 'A Dozen Kisses' is the shortest of the four stories, and the gentlest. Lady Caroline Starling is becoming rather desperate to be free of he mother. She has forced herself to become quiet and unseen, as otherwise Caroline knows she would say and do the oddest things. She feels a quiet desperation and loneliness. Linney is quietly pleased to have caught the attention of the Earl of Pellering, while not harbouring any deep feeling for her potential husband. Terrance Greyson, Lord Darington, was wounded three years previously. A bullet in his brain has made speech difficult for him, and he often finds himself saying things he shouldn't, or unable to phrase what it is he truly wants to say. How these two find each other is a short but sweet tale, and last few pages of their story especially let their actions speak for them.
The final of the quartet is Julia Quinn's 'Thirty-six Valentines'. Susannah Ballister was one of the most popular debs of the previous season, until the man that all thought would propose to her instead married another. Overnight she was someone to be pitied and whispered about, so she returned to the country to recover. Now in London again, Susannah is finding it difficult to smile while being the subject of gossip and enjoy her new role of wallflower. David Mann-Formsby, Earl of Renminster is the brother of the man that let her down. Influential in society, he makes an act of kindness that serves to restore Susannah so that she can once again take part in society. In doing so, David discovers that it is more than kindness that is driving him - he wants Susannah. All wrong for his brother, he finds he is complete right for himself and he sets out to make Susannah see that. For her part, Susannah is puzzled at why David, whom she knows did not approve of her, is aiding her and resolves that it must be pity, or at least sympathy, that motivates him. Now David must make a grand gesture to show that it is not pity that drives him, but love.
Even if you are not familiar with Lady Whistledown, any reader of romance should enjoy these four short tales. Each are skilfully written, and an enjoyable read. I liked that they each joined up here and there, set in the same few weeks without being choreographed to the exact same timetable. The fact that the book is broken into four easy bites makes for a light, relaxing read. Sometimes you'll laugh, sometimes you'll hurt for those you read about, but I'm certain you'll enjoy yourself throughout.