Lady Hilary Jamison, daughter of an impoverished earl, is facing her worst nightmare. Her boorish father has just announced that she will marry Mr. Brawley, an obnoxious but wealthy commoner. Brawley will no doubt be willing to, er, contribute to the Jamison family fortunes in return for Hilary's noble hand in marriage. This will bring Hilary's stepmother and stepbrothers back into the pink where they belong, her father points out. Hilary is well and truly trapped. Her only hope is to make herself so odious to the Brawley family that the engagement will be called off. With that in mind, Hilary sets off for a visit to the Brawley manor house.
Hilary's attempts to put off Brawley and his supercilious mother and sisters don't seem to work. She has a title, which is all they seem to care about. Despairing, Hilary writes to her friend Lady Lily Carhill. Lily is married to a much older nobleman and is currently living in London. To Hilary's astonishment, Lily soon turns up at the Brawley home, insisting that Hilary accompany her back to London and insinuating that the Brawley women might follow in a few weeks and have a taste of Society.
Hilary is grateful for the reprieve, but puzzled at Lily's demeanor. Lily arrives at the Brawleys with one Lord Grayden in tow, and Hilary assumes that he is Lily's cicisbeo. When Lord Grayden shows an interest in Hilary, Lily's nose is decidedly out of joint. And when Hilary befriends Lily's husband, Lord Carhill, Lily's petulance boils over.
But all is not as it seems. Lord Grayden is perfectly able to court Hilary, and Lily truly wishes to be a friend - if she can put herself second for once. Might Grayden be the answer to Hilary's prayers and dreams?
Hilary was a delightful heroine, full of intelligence and warmth. Her resigned acceptance of her uncaring family is heartbreaking, and one wants to shout, "Tell them all to go to the devil!" while accepting that she can't. Her devotion to the family governess is touching, as well. If anyone deserves a happy ending, it's Lady Hilary Jamison.
Unfortunately, Lord Grayden (we never do learn his first name) is about as placid as tapioca pudding. He broods about Hilary a lot, and they share some conversations, but the passion level never rises above the tepid level. It takes forever for Grayden to even decide that he wants Hilary. He's curious. He's intrigued. She's different. Yes, yes, but I wanted him to get on with it and fall for her. The misunderstanding about his relationship with Lily is dragged out past the point of reasonable and ends up feeling contrived. Frankly, the guy is a big yawn.
Lily is more interesting, in a "won't somebody please smack this woman?" sort of way. Perhaps she's meant as a foil for Hilary's decency. Her immaturity and over-the-top self-centeredness may make for good counterpoint, but not necessarily for fun reading.
The character of Clara, the governess who is about to be displaced, is far more interesting. She's portrayed as a woman of depth and common sense as well as a true friend to Hilary. I was curious to know what happened to her, and was glad to see her make a return appearance toward the end of the story.
Lady Hilary's Halloween has strong, memorable female characters and an intriguing plot, if not a memorable romance. But it might be worth a look.