The Fair Game

Falling For Chloe

The Nobody

Once Upon a Christmas
by Diane Farr
(Signet Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-451-20162-0
Diane Farr’s newest release, Once Upon a Christmas, is a multi-faceted novel featuring an orphaned heroine being groomed for a marriage that neither she nor the groom wants. Or so they think.

Celia Delacourt is nearly destitute after the loss of her entire family to a bout of deadly food poisoning. Only by chance was Celia not home at the time, and thus saved. It’s a heavy burden for a young lady to bear, and when distant relative Her Grace the Duchess of Arnsford arrives to take Celia under her wing, Celia is only too grateful - until she discovers what the imperious duchess wants. Celia will be groomed for marriage to her distant cousin John, the future Duke and the heir to the grand house known as Delacourt.

Jack Delacourt is tired of his mother’s machinations. He’s not interested in a loveless marriage to a society miss, and has narrowly escaped the noose on several occasions. Word reaches Jack that his mother has a new protégée, and since Jack is expected at Delacourt for Christmas, he decides the best way to foil his mother’s plans is to act like a complete ass, a buffoon, an empty-headed fop. He succeeds so well that Celia concludes he’s mad as a March hare. But she’s drawn to him anyway, and Jack finds this quiet, funny girl who is so unlike his icy family intrigues him. Is she really scheming to be the next duchess? And if she is, why does she treat him with kid gloves?

What follows is a rich, fairly complex story. Under Farr’s gifted pen, the duchess schemes to control all around her, Celia discovers her gumption, Jack learns to deal with his family, and their tangled lives intertwine to produce a lively, sympathetic tale. And if Celia’s impression of Jack’s madness goes on a bit too long, that can be forgiven in light of the rich characterizations. It’s much to Farr’s credit that she can make a Machiavellian creature like the duchess ultimately sympathetic and even poignant. She’s easily the most compelling character in the book, and she nearly overshadows the story.

Jack, Celia, and the duchess pretty much monopolize the novel. Jack’s sisters wander in and out, and there are some servants that play smaller roles, but the story is tightly focused on the triangle of power these three are forming. As the balance shifts, Jack and Celia will have to lay down their defenses and trust each other with the truth if they hope to succeed against the duchess.

Diane Farr is making a name for herself as one of today’s top Regency authors. Her fresh plots and impeccable characterizations are earning her well-deserved raves, and Once Upon a Christmas is only going to add to her reputation. If Regency romance survives, it will be in no small part to the talents of authors like this. Bravo.

--Cathy Sova

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