Marjorie Farrell’s Red, Red Rose was one of the best Regency historicals that I read last year and sits on my keeper shelf. Thus, I was pleased when I learned that she had a new book coming out and even more delighted to discover that Val and Elspeth from RRR are important characters in the new work. But, as is always the case, I was worried that my high expectations would be dashed. I am happy to say that if
Jack of Hearts is not quite as compelling as Red, Red Rose, it is still a most enjoyable romance with a nice twist.
Anne Heriot, a school friend of Elspeth, is the daughter of a very wealthy woolen manufacturer. Her father had died a year earlier, before he could fulfill his plans to take his daughter to London and find her a titled husband. Anne, without any local suitors except her cousin who is not to her taste, decides to follow her father’s wishes and marry a lord. While her companion Sarah decries her practical approach to matrimony, Anne is convinced that this is her best course.
Anne’s London solicitor, aware of her plans, has winnowed the list of likely candidates down to three. Each desperately needs money but none is truly responsible for his money troubles. Lord Leighton inherited a poor estate; Lord Windham’s father speculated badly and then committed suicide; Lord Aldborough inherited his uncle’s title, with all his
responsibilities and no money.
Anne decides to make these gentlemen’s acquaintance during the Little Season, carefully consider her options, and then make her choice during the Season in the spring. Elspeth helps smooth Anne’s way into society, although she has her own favorite. She believes that Jack Belden, Viscount Aldborough -- an old army friend of her husband -- is the perfect match for Anne. Anne does not agree. Jack’s reputation as a flirt, reflected in his nickname, “Jack of Hearts,” sets her against Jack. Or perhaps she finds him too attractive.
How these two end up together provides the romance in Jack of Hearts, and a very nice romance it is. Jack begins his suit as pragmatically as Anne began her quest for a husband. But as he gets to know this woman who is so different from the ladies of the ton, he finds himself falling in love with her. Anne likewise comes to know and appreciate Jack more, but refuses to look deeply at her own feelings and selects him only when her other suitors prove unsuitable. I especially enjoyed the way Farrell shows the relationship developing and growing. I like to know why the characters fall in love.
Farrell sets her romance not only amongst the London ton but also provides a telling picture of the conditions in early industrial England. Anne must confront the fact that she is now the owner of the mills where workers can be dismissed for whistling and where little children work long hours in dangerous conditions. Her gradual awakening to her responsibilities and her realization that Jack shares her concern for the plight of the workers is part of their developing relationship.
If the romance between Anne and Jack crosses the social divide and challenges the status quo, even more interesting is the secondary romance between Anne’s companion, Sarah, the daughter of a country vicar and the granddaughter of a viscount, and Patrick Gillen, formerly sergeant-major in an Irish regiment and now Anne’s head groom. Sarah
comes to see clearly that what matters is not a man’s social position but rather the goodness of his heart.
However much I enjoyed Jack of Hearts, I cannot let pass one problem that I had with the book. I know that this is one of my personal idiosyncrasies, but I have to ask why it is that Farrell, who has written several books set in Regency England, cannot get the titles right. Daughters of barons and viscounts are not known as Lady Anything. Trivial perhaps, but problematic. Also, Jack’s inheriting the title through his mother left me scratching my head.
Still, despite these minor quibbles, I enjoyed Jack of Hearts very much. I particularly appreciated Farrell’s recognition of the other England that is so often ignored in historical romances but which was the reality behind the country’s greatness. If this book is not quite the equal of Red, Red Rose, it is a very good historical