Miss Seton’s Sonata
by Meredith Bond
(Zebra, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-7592-8
New author Meredith Bond’s first Regency, Miss Seton’s Sonata, has an entertaining story at its core. Unfortunately, it also carries a lot of first-time-author baggage, such as stiff writing, flat characters, and plot elements that feel contrived. Basically, it’s just not very interesting.

Miss Teresa Seton has come to London for a Season, under the care of her Aunt Catherine, Lady Swinborne. Teresa’s mother is Spanish, and she has been raised in Spain. She’s pale, shy, awkward, stammers a lot, and her only redeeming grace is that she plays the pianoforte beautifully. Aunt Catherine arranges for Teresa to practice at the house next door, which belongs to the Marquis of Merrick, who is not at home.

Richard, the Marquis, is at home, but he’s busy attending to the business of establishing an orphanage for destitute boys. A widower, Richard isn’t over the death of his wife, Julia. He’s no longer the Merry Marquis of London. When he arrives home one day, dressed in the shabby clothing he uses for roaming the streets of London, he hears a sonata being played on the pianoforte. Deciding it’s another matchmaking ploy, he introduces himself to Teresa as “Richard”, the man who cares for the house.

Teresa finds she can converse with Richard easily, and he is intrigued by her playing ability and forthright manner. After several visits, he gives in one day and kisses her. At that moment, Aunt Catherine arrives with her good friend, Lady Jersey, and horrors! Teresa is Compromised! They must marry at once! Richard agrees but, because he’s faithful to his dead wife and Will Never Love Again, decides to make it a marriage in name only. They’ll get an annulment down the road and in the meantime, he’ll help Teresa search out a better mate.

That’s about the sum total of the plot. Teresa and Richard marry, he’s more and more intrigued but won’t consummate the marriage, she falls in love with him, etc. Oh, and Teresa’s mother arrives from Spain with the news that Teresa’s father has died and she’s moving in. (This immense loss is dealt with in two pages and Teresa rarely thinks of her father again, though they were purported to be very close.)

Dona Isabella is clearly brought in to add some depth to a thin plot, but is doesn’t succeed. For one thing, she’s immensely dislikable, and Teresa’s kowtowing to her just makes the girl seem even more spineless. She bosses Teresa around, insults her, and ultimately tries to seduce Richard, in a scene that had me laughing out loud :

”Oh, no, I am like no mother you have ever had, Merry. And I want you to have me.”

At the same time, he felt the unmistakable pressure of her soft hips against him.

At that moment, Teresa walks in and finds her mother plastered all over her husband, and what does she do? Accuses her mother of flirting with Richard. I suppose if Dona Isabella been completely undressed, she’d accuse her of making “an improper advance”?

At this point, I fully expected Dona Isabella to be tossed out of the house, but no, Richard and Teresa are too wishy-washy for that, so she hangs around for the rest of the story. At this point, I mentally began calling her the Spanish Slut, and if she wasn’t likable, at least she was somewhat entertaining. And more fun to read about than Richard and Teresa.

The author apparently decided it would give her story more authenticity if the characters all spoke in an excessively proper mode, using no contractions. However, it’s tiresome to read and feels forced and affected. Then there’s the appearance of nearly every Standard Regency Famous Person. Not only is Sally Jersey part of the story, so are Lady Cowper and Princess Esterhazy. Beau Brummel is mentioned. (Countess Lieven was missing, though I may have missed her.) After Richard and Teresa are engaged, everyone at a soiree snubs her because of her indiscretion, though I found this extremely unlikely in class-conscious London. She’s marrying a marquis, after all. And the indiscretion – a kiss on a piano bench – isn’t much in the first place. If they’d been playing slap-and-tickle under a garden hedge, I’d have found this more plausible.

Richard mopes around till the end of the book, feeling guilty about his attraction to Teresa, and sure he’s dishonoring his dead wife. How could he be so disloyal to his beloved Julia? he agonizes, ad nauseum. Teresa develops some spine, but not enough to tell off her mother and force the issue with Richard. In the end, bland characters and a thin plot don’t leave much impression. Miss Seton’s Sonata shows glimmers of promise, but the end result isn’t satisfactory. It will be interesting to see how Meredith Bond evolves with her second book, due out in June.

--Cathy Sova

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