Telep, Trisha (ed.) The Mammoth Book of Regency Romance (2010). 592 Pages. Running Press. $13.95
Good lord that was a lot of romance. I do enjoy regency romance quite a bit; it may be my favorite historical era, and it certainly is fun. At just under 600 pages, and 23 stories, it took a while to read. It was worth it, and entertaining, to boot. My biggest complaint might be that several of the stories could have used some more space to grow; they felt rushed with the number of pages they had. Pruning the collection to 20 stories and giving the survivors the extra pages would have done wonders for several of them.
There is no good synopsis for the whole book, and indeed, several which I have found are either inaccurate or misleading, so instead I’ll say a little about each story.
The opening story, “Desperate Measures” by Candice Hern sets the tone for the book. Lydia Bettridge is a young miss with an ambitious scheme; to catch the attention of one Geoffrey Danforth by pretending to be besotted with Phillip Hartwell. However, things don’t go as she planned, and the pair realize some important things about their relationship.
Anna Campell’s “Upon a Midnight Clear” is about an estranged marriage; Sebastian Sinclair, Earl of Kinvarra and Alicia Sinclair, Countess of Kinvarra have not seen each other for ten long years, having had a very unhappy first-year. Their chance meeting in the woods causes them to reevaluate what has happened, and what they might become.
“The Dashing Miss Langley” by Amanda Grange is about Miss Annabelle Langley, a woman who is firmly “on the shelf,” having had her hopes dashed not so long ago. When her niece proves to have a most inconvenient attachment to a gardener, she decides that the best course of action is for both of them to go visit a family friend. Once at the country estate, however, Annabelle is reunited with someone she had been trying to forget. Predictably, there is romance and a happily-ever-after*.
Elizabeth Boyle’s “Cynders and Ashe” is a Cinderella retelling; a family tradition states that Lord Ashe will find his wife at a very exclusive ball which his family hosts once a year. Indeed, that is the case, but before he can learn his love’s identity, she is taken away. Five years later, she returns.
“His Wicked Revenge” by Vanessa Kelly is about a pair of lovers, separated by a series of unfortunate events. When Anthony realizes that it is in his power to take revenge upon Marissa, who has broken his heart, he does so. However, his reunion with Marissa is not what he expected, and revenge is not as sweet as he had hoped. This particular story was well-written, but far from a favorite as it features a near-martyr and a very distinct lack of familial affection.
One of the best was “Lady Invisible” by Patricia Rice, which is about a soldier returning from his time abroad and realizing that he needs a wife to help raise his handful of a daughter. He’s awkward at best, because he never was one with the ladies, and he doesn’t know how to relate to his daughter. Luckily for him, there is someone who does, if he could just convince her to marry him.
The next story, Anthea Lawson’s “The Piano Tutor,” is about Diana Waverly, a widow just out of mourning who finds that an affair with the piano tutor may be more ideal than she imagined.
In “Stolen” by Emma Wildes, Lady Sabrina Pearson merely wants to reclaim what was once her father’s, but to do that, she’ll have to steal it back from his old partner. The heist goes well, but the night following it adds many complications to her life.
“Her Gentleman Thief” by Robyn DeHart is not as similar as its story might suggest. It is about Annalise, who is on her way to her wedding, and whose carriage is stopped by a highwayman. She volunteers to go with him in order to protect her sister, not knowing what she has just gotten herself into.
Christie Kelley’s “The Weatherlys’ Ball” is about Tessa, a woman whose season was tainted by scandal which forced her into marriage. Newly widowed, she hopes for a chance to find happiness. As is often the case, happiness does not take the form she expects, and there’s a lot of misunderstanding to clear up before she reaches her goal.
“The Panchamaabhuta” by Leah Ball is fairly harsh. Francis loved her husband, but he was a gambler, and he left her destitute. Nearly starving, and hoping to save herself, she realizes that she has to sell off the star-ruby ring he gave her. Her journey to deliver it to its buyer is fraught with more difficulty than she expected, and the story ends in an unsurprisingly surprising way.
“Angelique” by Margo Maguire is about a devious father’s manipulation of his daughter. After she caused quite a scandal– by leaving her groom at the altar– Angelique was banished to live in poverty with her aunt. Now, after her father’s death, she learns of his will, stipulating that her ex-fiancée will control her funds. Being forced to confront both her father’s death, and the man she left behind will be nothing like what she expected.
Another good one was “Like None Other” by Caroline Linden. Emma enjoys the relative freedom of being a well-off widow; she can paint her house whichever colors she likes, and dine in the garden whenever she pleases. It doesn’t hurt that her neighbor is a handsome Captain Quentin, a charming man, full of adventurous tales which draw her in.
Shirley Kennedy’s “The Catch of the Season” is another unmarried miss story. Julia Winslow is in her first season, and has caught the attention of an earl; Lord Melton. He is wealthy and titled and is exactly the sort of man every lady is supposed to want, except that Julia doesn’t feel anything for him. His proposal leaves her torn; she longs for happiness, but understands the necessity of this match. Having begged some time to think, Julia must make up her mind; marry the Earl and make her family happy, or hope for more for her own sake?
Delilah Marvelle’s “French Intuition” is another estranged marriage story. Lady Gwendolyn Elizabeth Redford had thought that a brief separation from her husband might help their relationship, but a year has passed and he has not come for her. When rumors begin circulating that she has been unfaithful during their time apart, she realizes that she must take extreme measures to save her marriage.
“A Suitable Gentleman” by Sara Bennett features a hypochondriac aunt and her two unmarried nieces. Clarinda is grateful to her aunt– Lady March– for taking her and her sister in when they lost their parents, but she has come to accept that she will never marry and escape. When she encounters a handsome and charming man, she hopes that she can match him with her sister, to spare at least one of them spinsterhood. However, Clarinda’s plans matter little when her heart refuses to play along.
“Gretna Green” by Sharon Page is about a lot more than the infamous town. Trevelyan Foxton and Sally Thomas have both risen above their circumstances; he, by becoming a bow street runner, she by becoming Estelle Desjardins, renowned modiste. When a girl goes missing after her elopement, and Trevelyan is sent to find her, their paths cross, and they will be faced to confront everything they had before. It’s a bit of mystery, and a bit of romance, and is one of the better stories in the book.
“Little Miss Independent” by Julia Templeton is about a crippled war hero’s search for a wife. With massive scarring, a man who was once in much demand can hardly even pay for feminine company. Yet, none of this seems to matter to Adelaide Bruce, who has idolized him since she was a child. Unfortunately for Addy, she doesn’t think he returns her affections… yet.
“The Devil’s Bargain” by Deborah Raleigh is yet another estranged marriage story. Struck with sudden cold feet on her wedding night, Countess Spaulding– Amelia– fled from her husband, back to their London town house. When Lord Spaulding failed to pursue her, she made the best of her situation by becoming a very exclusive hostess with the best Salons. Now, however, her husband seems to have taken it in his head to fulfill his marital duty, and Amelia is far from pleased.
Barbara Metzger’s “Kindred Souls” is another scandal story. Mildred was caught in a compromising position with a peer who had no intention of marrying her, and it ruined her entire family. Years later, still unwed and living with her spinster Aunt, Millie is surprised to receive a letter from a solicitor. Her journey home to meet with the solicitor will be far more significant than she could ever have imagined.
Michele Ann Young’s “Remember” is another revenge story. Charlotte hopes to land a rich husband to save her father from debtor’s prison. Gerard hopes to save his friend’s young, rich cousin from the claws of an older, gold-digging woman. But Charlotte and Gerard have history, and Gerard had never forgiven her for breaking his heart.
Carolyn Jewel’s “Moonlight” is about Philippa and Alec. Having been widowed, Philippa has decided she’s ready to remarry, and Alec, her long-time friend is there to congratulate her. Except that over the course of one night, they realize that the feelings between them which had been platonic for so long have developed into much more.
Lorraine Heath’s “An Invitation to Scandal” closes the volume. It is about a prostitute’s wealthy daughter and a destitute Earl. Ariana makes a business proposal, and Nicholas finds himself inspired to accept. But things are never as simple as characters think they will be, and there are some challenges to overcome before they are happy.
There are some anthologies which can be read in one sitting, which features stories which are sufficiently different from each other, so they do not blend together. This, unfortunately, was not one of those anthologies. Extended reading draws attention to the worst of the stories; the overused cliches, the characters which are all the same except for their stations in life, and the million other things which begin to blur. Extended reading also casts a focus upon the fact that several of the stories were far too rushed, and should have had an additional 5-10 pages in which to develop. There are also one-too-many stories about “misunderstandings” which are blown out of proportion and which make people miserable for far longer than could ever be explained. (In many cases, it’s the Rube-Goldberg of conversation; a few words could have solved that which is complicated by elaborate plots.)
That is not to say that this is a bad volume. With a solid lineup of stories which all feature regency-era romance, and in most cases, sex, it’s an average book at worst. It’s interesting in that it is about a rather sexually repressed era, yet every story (except one?) features the characters having sex with each other, sometimes out of wedlock, or even an engagement. For being from such a stilted society, they sure are liberal. Yet, that is part of the genre, and comes with the territory.
One or two stories were bland, a few were repetitive (within themselves, featuring bits that kept coming back due to what I can only guess was poor copyediting), and a few of the stories were average at best, but not a single one was truly bad. I enjoyed reading them, and in several cases will be seeking out other works by these authors.
There are not many options when working with a romantic short story; characters can either fall in love at first sight, they can have a long-standing relationship, or they can reunite after being estranged. Some of them are about young girls and their first loves, others about widows finding new love, and a few about spinsters finding unexpected love. There are a few representations of each of these in the volume, but they manage to be varied enough to avoid feeling like the same story over and over again.
I’d give this volume a 4/5. Even if there are one or two which don’t completely thrill you, this is still 23 stories for $13.95, and offers a great opportunity to sample several of the “big names” in regency romance.
* I say this frequently, but one does not read romance novels expecting anything but happily-ever-after. Every story in this volume ends happily.