Like all readers, I enjoy it when authors bring back characters I have become fond of. Itís so nice to see how their lives are turning out. Kate Huntington does just this in Mistletoe Mayhem. The setting is a Christmas house party at the home of Viscount and Vanessa, Lady Blakely from The Captainís Courtship. Present are Lydia and Edward Whittaker of The Lieutenantís Lady. The hero and heroine of this current tale are Lady Madelyn Rathbone and Robert Langtry,
important secondary characters from this book. And just for good measure, the sort of villain from Huntingtonís delightful novella, The Royal Kitten turns up as well.
However, there are pitfalls for an author who chooses to depend heavily on continuing characters. Readers unfamiliar with the previous books may well feel that they are coming in at the middle of the action. Even those who have read and enjoyed the previous stories may not recall enough of the details to feel completely au courrant with what is going on. To an certain extent, this is a problem with Mistletoe Mayhem.
Lady Madelyn and Robert Langtry are the protagonists. Two years earlier, they fell in love. But Madelyn is a great heiress and Robert a mere country gentleman. Her guardian rejected Robertís suit and he refused Madelynís suggestion that they elope to Gretna Green. Such an action would have lost her fortune and position. Moreover, Robert had just become guardian of his two nieces and two nephews. Madelyn was not interested taking charge of the orphans. Indeed, in The Lieutenantís Lady, Madelyn came across as something of a spoiled brat.
Vanessa had invited Robert and his charges to the house party in part to try to throw him together with a worthy widow who, everyone thinks, would make him a perfect wife. Then, her father-in-law announces that he is bringing Lady Madelyn to visit. Vanessa, knowing of the thwarted romance, is not pleased.
Huntington does a very good job of interweaving all of this backstory into her tale. The reader will not miss any of the necessary details. But what is missing is the romance. Neither Robert nor Madelyn has fallen out of love in the intervening two years. But unless the reader has total recall about what happened in the previous book or still has it sitting somewhere on her shelves, she has no clue as to why and how the two fell in love. Someone who has not read The Lieutenantís Lady will be even more at sea. Since one of the main attractions of any romance novel is watching the characters fall in love, this is a problem.
What we have in Mistletoe Mayhem instead is the story of how Madelyn and Robert finally overcome the barriers that keep them apart. A significant impediment is the hostility of Robertís oldest niece who well remembers Madelynís lack of sympathy two years earlier. Another is Madelynís belief that she is incapable of taking on responsibility for four young children. A third is the difference in their stations and
Robertís understandable scruples about this gap.
Huntington very cleverly shows us how and why these barriers gradually crumble. She shows us how much Madelyn has grown and matured. She makes us care about the characters and root for them to find happiness. She tells a heartwarming and at times humorous story.
But despite all that is very good about Mistletoe Mayhem, I find that I can only rate it acceptable. I find myself wishing for a prologue or something where I could see Madelyn and Robert fall in love and watch the pain of their parting. Something of this sort would have transformed this into a very, very good Regency romance.