Change of Plans

 
In Pursuit of a Proper Husband
by Glenda Garland
(Zebra Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-7819-6
*****
Oh, happy day. There’s nothing quite as rewarding for a fan of historical romance as a good Regency – and this is a very good Regency, indeed.

As a newlywed, Meg Grantham went with her lieutenant husband to Spain, where she followed the drum for several years and earned the sobriquet ‘General Grantham’ because she was better at provisioning her husband’s troops than their ineffective quartermaster. Now at 24, she is a widow, back in England. Living with her husband’s family, she is helping to prepare her 17-year-old niece for a London debut.

She is surprised one day by a visit from someone calling himself Mr. Dodd, who says he has come on an errand from Viscount Reversby. Reversby was the husband of Meg’s dearest friend, Anne, who died while Meg was in Spain. Apparently it was Anne’s wish that Meg have a distinctive garnet brooch that Anne inherited from her mother.

Meg sees immediately that ‘Dodd’ is, in fact, actually Viscount Reversby, and he has an ulterior motive for wanting to meet with her. Recently he discovered some mysterious correspondence between Meg and Anne that hints at a mutually kept secret. Noel loved Anne, but in the back of his mind he knows that something was wrong in the last couple of years of his marriage, and he wants to know what this secret is, particularly since Meg so clearly does not want to reveal it.

After strongly cautioning him that some secrets are better kept than told, Meg makes him a bargain. If Noel will use his polish and connections to help Meg launch her awkward niece successfully into society, Meg will reveal the secret.

The characters are the first really good thing about this book. Even the bit players are vivid and real, but Meg and Noel are firmly at center stage and Ms. Garland’s focus never wavers. She obviously has a good sense of the kind of people her hero and heroine are, and their very different personalities make them wonderful foils for each other.

Meg is the serious and responsible one, partly by inclination no doubt, but certainly as a result of circumstance. She’s not a grim character, though, not at all. She has a sense of humor that gives her a balanced approach to the difficulties life has thrown her, and her modesty makes her faintly uncomfortable with the status and recognition that resulted from her activities in Spain. Meg has her own reasons for wanting to maintain a low profile, but somehow her life just won’t go that way.

Noel, on the other hand, protects his vulnerabilities with an indolent attitude that makes one character refer to him as Lord Languid. But it is his work that restored the family fortunes his father tried so hard to gamble away, so we know there is more to Noel than his affected carelessness.

These two characters definitely have intelligence in common, though, and their banter is actually both witty and funny – one of the other really good things about this book. Their conversations, which might appear to be no more than idle verbal sparring, continually reveal both character and plot. This keeps the energy high and the pacing swift.

The novel is definitely character driven. There isn’t a lot of external conflict, but I didn’t miss it. The secret that Meg is keeping is slowly revealed to be a small network of interconnected secrets that involve other people besides herself, and Ms. Garland does a lovely job of letting the information trickle out gradually. This not only keeps the story moving forward, but encourages readers to re-evaluate what we already thought we knew about the characters and the situation. This is writing of subtlety and talent.

Meg and Noel’s relationship evolves slowly, and the sexual tension grows gradually but inexorably as the story builds toward a satisfyingly romantic conclusion. I can only say that romance fans would buy a lot more Regencies if more were written with this wonderful combination of talent and heart.

-- Judi McKee


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