Deceiving Miss Dearborn

Lord Ryburn’s Apprentice
by Laurie Bishop
(Signet Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-451-21731-4
Lord Ryburn’s Apprentice offers little to Regency romance lovers. A thin plot, unlikable characters, and a romance that is tepid at best are about all it can offer. Miss Georgina Marland has resided at a boarding school for young ladies since she was eleven years old. Now, at nineteen, a distant relative offers to take her under her wing and school her in the ways of Society. Lady Escott hopes that Georgina can make a suitable match with a gentleman. And her nephew Hugh is just the man to help with Georgina’s education.

Let me make it clear that Lady Escott is no matchmaker, and in a welcome twist, is doing this to best an old rival, one who is bringing out another young lady. If Georgina ends up the toast of London, Lady Escott will have revenge for a long-ago slight. The problem is Georgina’s parents. Her father was a seaman, Captain Marland, who died long ago. But nobody seems to know what happened to Georgina’s mother. She went off to the Continent and left Georgina at school, and several years ago her letters stopped. Georgina assumes her mother is dead; why else would she not come back?

Hugh is certain that Georgina’s mother left her daughter behind for a more unsavory life, and he is determined to find out. His first thought is that Georgina should be made into some sort of servant. After all, she’s been teaching at the girls’ academy, which means she was – shudder - employed. Hugh is about to embark upon a search for a proper wife, and he is aghast at the possibility of a scandal. When Lady Escott tells him not to be ridiculous, he turns his venom on Georgina.

It would be one thing if Hugh were trying to protect his aunt, but he’s not – his sole care is for his own reputation. In short, he acts like a complete ass. He mocks Georgina, criticizes her at every opportunity, and only feels a twinge of conscience when he drives her to tears. Georgina is one of those heroines whose speech descends into “I – I” and “She – she” whenever she’s flustered or uncertain, and it’s rather boring to read. Lady Escott is benevolent toward Georgina, but only to further her own ends. I didn’t care about any of them, though at least Lady Escott had some sparkle to her.

The plot turns around Hugh’s continued suspicions of Georgina, even as he is growing to like and admire her a bit. Georgina is so afraid of making a misstep and displeasing Hugh or his aunt that she spends most of the book either stammering, apologizing, or in tears. As the book is turning in circles, going nowhere, the author then brings in Georgina’s mother, now a famous opera singer. Will mother and daughter reconcile?

Georgina finds Hugh to be “the most beautiful man she’d ever seen” right from the outset, which tinges her relationship with a hint of a schoolgirl crush. Seeing as she’s lived in a girls’ school and hasn’t even met any other men, his callous treatment of her was hard to accept, and harder to get past. Even as Hugh discovers Georgina’s finer points – and she is portrayed as a goodhearted innocent – he pursues other women, never really thinking of her as wife material. Then we’re asked to believe they are “in love” – a leap I couldn’t make. It certainly wasn’t a meeting of equals.

Lady Escott steals the book, with her acerbic outlook and willingness to knock Hugh off his Regency high horse. I quite enjoyed her character, and if the two leads had been half as lively or entertaining, this might have saved the story. As it is, Lord Ryburn’s Apprentice is more likely to leave readers with a feeling of dissatisfaction. Approach with caution.

--Cathy Sova

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