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Strictly speaking the Regency Period in English history was between 1811 and 1820, but regency authors tend to use these dates a little on the loose side and may include any of the events that transpired during the first quarter of the nineteenth century. The stories are Romances with a generous helping of social commentary thrown in for good measure. In three of the regency novels in this review the heroine is suddenly thrust into an upper social class she doesn’t expect and is not prepared for. Unlike most upper class men of the era, the wealthy gentlemen they fall for have more democratic views of class than the norm. The fourth is not a Regency by the strictest terms, but is more historical, though it falls into the same approximate time period. All four authors are tops in their field.
WILLOWKEEP by Julie Daines
Charlotte Darby lives in the rough seaport town of Hull with her mentally handicapped younger sister. Their mother committed suicide when life became unbearable several years earlier. While still mourning her loss, Charlotte’s father was lost at sea. Now she is out of money and items she might sell to keep herself and her sister alive. She is constantly told by doctors and mere acquaintances that she should put her sister in an asylum. One day a solicitor from London arrives with unbelievable news. Her uncle, her mother’s brother, has died leaving Charlotte an heiress to one of the largest fortunes and estates in England. Shortly after, the estate’s steward arrives to transport Charlotte and her sister to Willowkeep.
Henry Morland, steward to the Willowkeep estate, runs the estate efficiently and is well liked by the tenants, servants, and surrounding villagers. He’s paid well, but will never accumulate enough funds to pay off his father’s debts and free him from debtors’ prison. He soon finds himself falling in love with the new heiress even though he knows marriage to someone above his class cannot be. He does all he can to smooth her way and becomes a favorite of Charlotte’s sister who has an hysterical, screaming fit when approached by most people other than her sister. She trusts Henry and he becomes one of the few people who can calm her when she’s upset.
In spite of her blunt language and lack of suitable wardrobe, Charlotte is soon courted by a handsome, eligible gentleman of the ton, is the object of fortune hunters, and has to make some serious choices concerning her sister, the estate, the last remnants of her family, and her heart.
Charlotte and Henry are both carefully executed characters with large amounts of reader appeal. They fit the time period. Their language is authentic, though Charlotte uses more slang and references awkward topics more than even a woman growing up in a seaport might be expected to use. (She has worked as a maid and her mother was raised in a fashionable home.)
Daines draws attention to several negative realities of the Regency period; the powerless position of women, society’s indifference to the extreme poverty of a large portion of the population, the inhumane treatment of the mentally ill, and a class system that withheld advancement opportunities from those born to the lower classes. Her ability to create the lightness and fluff of an era focused on high society while creating an awareness of the darkness and unfairness of that period serves to make her one of the premier Regency writers.
Julie Daines was born in Massachusetts, but was raised in Utah. She also lived a short time In England.
WILLOWKEEP by Julie Daines, published by Covenant Communications, 267 pages, softcover $15.99 Also available for eReaders.
THE EARL’S BETROTHAL by Karen Tuft
Captain Lord Anthony Hargreaves is sick of war. The Peninsular War in 1812 nearly cost him his life. Exhausted both mentally and physically he returns to his family estate in England to learn his brother is dead and his father is ill, leaving him next in line to inherit the family estate. His father is adamant that he marry quickly and produce an heir. He has even picked out a bride for his new heir; his deceased brother’s fiancé. He doesn’t feel ready to take on the responsibilities of the estate, a title, or marriage. None of the young ladies of the best families interest him. He is content with the friendship of his mother’s young companion, Amelia Clarke.
Anthony needs time to put the horrors of war and his own mental and physical injuries behind him. He also wants to meet the responsibilities that should have been his brother’s and please his father, but he has no desire to marry his deceased brother’s fiance. He struggles to meet expectations, faces a jealous duke seeking revenge, and finds himself turning to Amelia more and more.
Amelia became Anthony’s mother’s companion following the death of her parents which left her penniless and homeless.
Both Anthony and Amelia draw the reader’s sympathy as they face a strong attraction for each other, but are caught up in society’s bias against marriage between classes. They are both portrayed as responsible, moral adults with great sensitivity to social injustice and a desire to be helpful.
Karen Tuft attended BYU, but graduated from the University of Utah. She has a great love for music as well as writing. She is both a wife and a mom.
THE EARL’S BETROTHAL by Karen Tuft, published by Covenant Communications, 264 pages, soft cover $16.99. Also available for eReaders.
THE HEIR OF BROWNLIE MANOR by Anita Stansfield
Thomas Quincey Fitzbatten returns from the Napoleonic War to find his parents, not knowing of his imminent arrival, have traveled abroad. He’s lost and bored with nothing to do but remember the horrific events of the war. He thinks a great deal about the injustice and lack of fairness in the world. Then he meets a young woman, the niece of the family butler. The butler explains that the girl is pregnant and needs help to enter a home for unwed mothers where she can place the child for adoption. Upon meeting Ruth Dawson, Thomas decides on a different plan and offers to marry her. Ruth is shocked both by Thomas’s uncanny resemblance to the man who forced himself on her and that a man of his wealth and position would marry a woman of a lower class, a niece of one of his servants. The marriage seems to go well and the pair find themselves falling in love. Disaster strikes when Thomas receives a letter from an old friend begging for his help. There’s something peculiar about the letter and Thomas soon finds his life in peril.
The characters in this story are much like the characters in Stansfield’s other books. They’re basically good people, wanting to do the right thing, but a little stiff and their response to every good or bad event is tears. Dialog is handled well and a major focus is placed on the injustices of the class system. The ending includes a not-unexpected twist and is a little melodramatic. Whatever shortcomings some readers may find in this novel, its strengths will outweigh them and provide a satisfying love story for the many Stansfield fans who have followed her for more than twenty years.
Anita Stansfield has published over fifty books and received numerous awards. She is a Utah native, married, and the mother and grandmother of a large family. She also writes for the general market as Elizabeth D. Michaels.
THE HEIR OF BROWNLIE MANOR by Anita Stansfield, published by Covenant Communications, 282 pages, soft cover $16.99. Also available for eReaders and on CD.
A PLACE FOR MISS SNOW by Jennifer Moore
Diana Snow is an orphan, raised in London, and because of her determination has managed to become a teacher at a girls’ school. In the off season she accompanies a young lady as chaperone and companion to Greece. One day while having tea with her charge, a gentleman, against all that is proper, invites himself to join them. That brief, chance encounter leads to being kidnapped by pirates and transported to their stronghold. While at sea, she discovers the stranger, Alexandros Metaxas, is also aboard the ship. She believes him to be an arms runner when, in fact, he is actually a recruiter for a group seeking individuals and clans to band together to fight the Turks for Greece’s independence.
Diana, known as Miss Snow or Missno, is treated well by her captors and gets her first real taste of family life as she is assigned to a family with five children and a sixth on the way. As she experiences the give and take between siblings, she also experiences the customs, superstitions, and loyalties of family life. She also finds herself in danger from a bitter vendetta and a cruel raid. As her world is turned upside down, she finds Alexandros nearly always nearby and in her thoughts.
This book begins like most Regencies, then takes off more like an action novel. It is loaded with well-researched tidbits of historical interest. Diana is prim, proper, straitlaced, and very Regency at first, but loosens up and comes to terms with her loneliness and fears as the story unfolds. Alex discovers he too, suffers from some of the same fears Diana does and that walking away from her won’t be easy or perhaps even possible.
Readers who don’t generally read Regencies will discover this novel has more of the action and historical background they like and is well worth giving a try.
Jennifer Moore lives in Utah with her husband and four active sons. She has written half a dozen Regency novels that show a sparkling originality and which don’t quite fit the usual mold.
A PLACE FOR MISS SNOW by Jennifer Moore, published by Covenant Communications, 213 pages, Soft cover $14.99. Also available on CD and for eReaders.