Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Reluctance by Jen Black

You’d think he’d be grateful when she saves him from drowning, but Jack is living in his own private hell after the death of his wife.

Frances thinks he’s a rude, insufferable idiot. When Holbrook arrives and dazzles the neighborhood with his glorious regimentals, Frances does not care for him, but her mother, dazzled by his looks, claims that he’s admirable husband material even if he is without funds. He thinks Frances is just the heiress for him.

Then the newspaper publishes an ugly letter that, without naming Frances, questions her recent actions and her reputation. Horrified, she believes Jack is the culprit and challenges him…

The story is set in 1803, and the widowed Frances, Lady Rathmere is enjoying her affluent widowhood and had no plans to change her marital status. Not now, not ever, no matter what society says.

James Slade [Jack], Marquess Streatham feels the same way, and his feelings are prejudiced by guilt that he made his wife pregnant in the first place so her death in childbirth is on his hands.  

When Frances and her setter, Gyp, saves Jack from drowning, he’s not best pleased let alone grateful. Their second encounter is even less auspicious, but something about the man strikes a chord with Frances and she pays a lone visit to Jack in his dilapidated home the next day to check on his welfare.

However, it appears that visit, which ends as disastrously as their previous encounters, has come to the notice of a local busybody, who reports the matter in the local paper anonymously.  More letters disparaging Frances’ character appear at intervals, but instead of letting the matter slide into oblivion, newcomer to the area Andrew Holbrook, sails to France’s rescue and challenges the newspaper owner to a duel. Frances is incandescent, as she loathes Holbrook, but her witless Mama insists the only way to save her reputation is to marry Holbrook – if he survives the duel.

Jen Black’s main characters, Frances and Jack, are beautifully drawn and their quick wit and intelligence amongst a company of intellectually challenged family adds life and humour to the plot.

This is a perfect Regency romance with all the essential elements, a heartbroken but honourable hero, an independent heroine who has everyone’s interests at heart, and a villain in Holbrook who makes Mr Wickham in P&P look like an amateur.

The author is expert at grabbing a reader’s attention with her witty dialogue and intelligent repartee between characters that would have made Jane Austen proud. There were some parts of the plot that made me wonder how that had been allowed to happen,  but the compulsion to discover how Frances would handle the situation kept me reading. Without giving anything away, I felt the heroine missed obvious clues on occasion and her reasoning for certain actions escaped me completely.

I had to remind myself that the rules of society in 1803 are very different from today and this was a romance, where the hero and heroine have to be central to the story, and any supporting cast have walk on parts only. The ending was satisfying and beautifully done, and I did sympathise with Frances’ desire to live her own life but still be acceptable to a narrow and unforgiving society.

Anita Davison is a Historical Fiction Author whose latest release, ‘Royalist Rebel’ a biographical novel set in 17th Century England, is being released by Claymore Books in early 2013 under the name Anita Seymour

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