A Singular Lady by Megan Frampton
(Signet, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-451-21683-0
***
The heroine of this book may have been a ‘singular lady’ in Regency terms, but she’s a romance cliché through and through.

Titania Stanhope, daughter of the late Baron Ravensthorpe, is angry, but perhaps not totally surprised, that her rakish father left all his money to his mistress. The entailed part of the estate goes to Titania’s younger brother, of course, but recovering from the mountain of debts will take years of very careful management.

Instead of scrimping for years, Titania decides that their best bet for a life that is not on a severe budget is to use all of their small supply of cash to finance her come-out. During the Season, she will snare a wealthy husband, after which the tenants will be safe from starvation and her brother will not have to curtail his taste in waistcoats.

But she reckons without Edwin Worthington, Earl of Oakley. Newly returned from America where he fled after falling out with his father, and newly wealthy thanks to an inheritance, Edwin wishes to maintain the fiction that he is a man of very modest means. After all, that’s the only way he can be sure that a woman will love him for himself and not for his money.

Edwin is attracted to Titania from the first and, since her servants are putting it about that she’s a heiress, sees no impediment to their romance. Titania is certainly attracted to Edwin, but he’s wearing scuffed boots and outmoded jackets, so she knows he’s not the wealthy husband she needs. But neither, apparently, is anyone else. In spite of vows to marry the first rich man who crosses her path, Titania finds that the well-heeled suitors who show up don’t appeal to her. They’re too well dressed, or too lascivious, or they’re smelly, or their ears are too big.

And so Titania finds herself torn. Whom will she choose? A wealthy but unappealing lord who could save her family with a wave of his bankbook? Or the poor but handsome earl who puts the most wanton ideas in her head?

Well, as it turns out, Titania spends most of the book wanting to have her cake and eat it too. When someone eventually points out that this makes a very nice menu for her, but doesn’t leave much to offer anyone else, she’s completely taken aback. This lack of self-awareness combined with her lack of commitment to her purpose made it difficult for me to warm up to her.

She’s also that Regency romance staple – the proto-feminist. Titania can’t just be a young woman struggling to survive and keep her family together in a prejudiced and restrictive society; no, she also has to be a newspaper columnist. Otherwise, none of us twenty-first century gals will be able to identify with her.

Edwin is an interesting but not always happy mixture of contradictions. One of the first things he notices about Titania is the fact that her nose had once been broken, which was absolutely charming. Unfortunately, his charm factor dropped off sharply after that. For one thing, he’s a bit grabby. The first time he kisses Titania, which is in public by the way, he’s sticking his tongue in her mouth and fondling her breast.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m all in favor of spicing up Regencies. But some of the best sexual tension I’ve ever read has been in Regencies where nothing ever went beyond a kiss. If the emotional content isn’t there, the sex becomes gratuitous.

The book moves along nicely, but there were too many coincidences and a cast of secondary male characters who were a bit difficult to tell apart. The author did a nice job of characterizing Titania’s one female friend, but her motivations in trying to set her ‘friend’ Titania up with a fortune hunter are unclear.

Regency devotees may very well find this comfort food. I thought it was just a little stale.

-- Judi McKee


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