The Lover's Charm

A Most Reckless Lady

How to Kiss a Hero
by Sandy Hingston
(Dell, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-440-23534-0
How much verisimilitude do you look for in your historical romances? How true to life do you want the characters and setting to be? How great are your expectations that the author will make a good faith effort to provide at least a modicum of accuracy, do a bit of research, show a small amount of respect for her readers’ knowledge and intelligence?

If you, like me, appreciate some degree of accuracy when you read a book which purports to be set in the past, then I recommend that you avoid How to Kiss a Hero . If, on the other hand, all you care about is the story, then you might enjoy Hingston’s new Regency historical because the premise underlying what I must assume is a planned series is an entertaining one.

Mrs. Evelyn Treadwell and Christiane, Countess d’Oliveri were friends during their debuts many years ago. A scandal drove Christiane from England to the continent where she lived an exciting life before marrying her Italian husband. Evelyn married respectably, if not happily, and saw her daughter, Vanessa, make the marriage of the season when she was presented. Evelyn is not pleased with the results of the match, for the match has turned into an all too typical ton marriage. The earl pursues his own interests and other women; the countess lives a life of frantic frivolity.

Christiane suggests to her old friend that they establish a school for young women where the students will be encouraged to achieve their full potential, thus escaping Vanessa’s unhappy fate. Christiane has the financial resources; Evelyn has the reputation. Thus Mrs. Treadwell’s Academy for the Elevation of Young Ladies comes into being.

Nichola Hainesworth reluctantly becomes one of the school’s first students. Tall, athletic, with five older brothers, Nichola possesses none of the approved feminine graces. Her despairing mother hopes that Mrs. Treadwell will be able to civilize her daughter. Nichola plans to escape as soon as possible and join her soldier twin brother in Flanders. (The fact that there were no British troops in Flanders c. 1812 is something that the author failed to realize.)

Her escape is thwarted by Christiane who -- determined to encourage the students’ abilities -- promises to teach Nichola to fence. When the student excels the teacher, Christiane arranges to bring Lord Brian Boru to teach Nichola. (Why a Scots laird would be named for an 11th century Irish king escapes me.)

Lord Boru is a strange choice as a fencing master. Although renowned for his skill with foils and sabre, Lord Boru was injured at the battle of Dresden (Dresden?) and his knee was ruined. Christiane knew Brian in Paris (though what a British officer was doing sauntering around Paris while Britain is at war with the French is not clear) and believes that the challenge of teaching Nichola will reanimate his interest in life and encourage him to resume a more active life. That she probably also believes that the two are a perfect match is part of her plan.

At a visit to Mrs. Treadwell’s daughter’s castle, Nichola attracts the attention of Anthony, Lord Wallingford, heir to the Duke of Stafford. Suddenly, Nichola becomes a social success. Her mother is delighted. But Nichola has fallen in love with Lord Boru. Complications abound.

I cannot begin to detail the anachronisms and errors that fill the pages of How to Kiss a Hero. None of these characters behave at all like ladies and gentlemen of the early 19th century. That Brian and Nichola engage in a torrid affair allows Hingston to include some very well done love scenes, but that a gentleman -- however great his reputation as a rake -- would cheerfully seduce a young woman of eighteen and that she would so readily acquiesce just didn’t work for me. I know that the aims of the Academy were unconventional, but not this unconventional!

What a shame that Hingston didn’t make a greater effort to create a believable story. As I said above, the premise is interesting and the author introduced three other young ladies whose romantic adventures could prove entertaining. But the shortcomings lead me to warn others about How to Kiss a Hero.

--Jean Mason

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