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The Reckless Barrister
by April Kihlstrom
(Signet, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-451-19794-1
****
One of the most difficult tasks that any Regency author faces is to create a heroine who challenges the strictures of polite society without making said heroine seem anachronistic or "too stupid to live." April Kihlstrom faces and pretty well overcomes this dilemma in The Reckless Barrister Although the heroine does behave in an outre fashion on more than one occasion, she also learns from her mistakes and thus seems more believable than is often the case.

Our headstrong heroine is Emily Ashbourne and she has a cause. She wants to improve the lot of factory workers, especially those working in the factory of the man who is trying to force her to marry him. In pursuit of her quest, she seeks the assistance of Philip Langford, a newly minted barrister whose father, at least, had reformist proclivities.

Philip is already something of a nonconformist. As the younger son of an earl, he could have lived the life of an upper class gentleman, depending on his own inheritance and an allowance from his brother. Instead, he has chosen to embark on a career in the legal profession, under the sponsorship of his mentor, Sir Thomas Levenger. Indeed, it is Sir Thomas who suggests to Emily that she seek Philip's advice.

Philip is not at all sure he wants to get involved with the determined Miss Ashbourne. His father had been an ardent reformer, much to the chagrin of his family who had not enjoyed the notoriety the former earl had engendered. But there is something about the young lady which elicits a response in him. Certainly, her plight of having to marry someone who is totally unsuitable because of social pressure tugs at him. And before you know it, he has committed himself to do what he can to help Emily in her quest for justice.

Emily's actions in seeking out members of Parliament who might be sympathetic to her cause gets her into still more trouble, from which Philip has to extricate her. He finally convinces the young lady that she will do better to meet her quarry on the dance floor rather than on the steps of Whites, and smoothes her entrance into society. Before you know it, the ton is agog at the idea that Philip has at last been snared and Philip himself is increasingly unsure about his feelings for his protege.

As I indicated, Emily is an unconventional heroine. She is not anxious to marry, having read her Wollstonecraft and fearing that a husband will not look kindly on her having her own goals. But she is attracted to Philip because of his kindness and his handsome person. Philip, for his part, is much taken by a woman who never simpers and who is clearly brave, intelligent and caring.

In addition to the main romance, Kihlstrom includes a nice "second chance at love" story featuring Emily's aunt and her one time suitor. Kihlstrom shows her usual mastery of the ins and outs of Regency society.

The prologue to this book showed Philip and two of his brothers (the earl is already married) taking a pledge not to wed, with their oldest brother's unhappy example before them. Clearly there are two more books about the Langford brothers in the works, and I shall look forward to them. The Reckless Barrister is a pleasant introduction to the Langford family.

--Jean Mason


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