This Regency derives its form from the literary tradition of a comedy of situation, that is, a humorous plot that depends on an exploited and incongruous situation rather than character development. The title's somewhat misleading. In addition to too many matchmakers, there are too many matches and they're all messed up.
Here are the players:
Diana Reynolds, Lady Bounty, is a young widow whose late elderly husband married her to rescue her when her father was dying and encouraged her in her pursuit of education. Her literary soirees are highly regarded by the ton and invitations are coveted. (The major characters of The Earl's Revenge make a cameo appearance at one.)
Nicholas Barrington, Marquess of Woodvale, is a practiced rake who trifled with Diana's affections years earlier while she was an innocent miss. When she professed her love, he gave her a scathing set-down informing her that his interest in her was merely physical, that she was socially inferior to him, and that he would marry an heiress. He is surprised to learn that she is the widow of his esteemed mentor and even more surprised to discover that she is intelligent and educated. The old attraction has not lessened, and he finds himself more and more drawn to the appealing Lady Bounty. He is not impressed with her denials of any interest in pursuing romantic attachments and her strong resolve never to remarry.
Chloe Parker is Diana's young neighbor. Diana has secretly encouraged her to develop her mind even though her parents disparage any education for females. Chloe chafes at the restrictions placed upon females by society and longs for adventure and travel. She has been betrothed from the cradle to...
George, Lord Eastbrook, a stiff, humorless prig who is even more set in his opinion than Chloe's parents that women belong in the home raising children, avoiding all frivolous amusements, and deferring to their husbands in all things. (In the galley proof I read, there was a humorous misprint of 'God' for 'George.' He might be dictatorial, but he's not quite that exalted!) He was permitted to assent to his betrothal to Chloe when he reached 21 while she was never given a similar choice.
Lady Sophia Prescott is a relation of Nicholas. She has had several seasons and has failed to accept any marriage offer because she expects her husband to be a rigid model of propriety. Her parents have reached the end of their patience and have informed her that unless she accepts a suitor this season she will have to accept the suit of...
Charles Langley, a third son, has exhausted his parents' patience as well. Having no interest in the common pursuits of younger sons, the military or the church, he has been a debauched idler about society for several years. Even worse than this, his parents are horrified that Charles has interest in pursuing a career in trade! He thinks Sophia is haughty and irritating, but she is after all a great heiress.
To add to the confusion, Charles is forced to announce that he and Diana are engaged, and Nicholas proposes to Sophia. In other words, everyone's mismatched. The story describes how the already tangled relationships become even more entangled, how complications ensue, and how it all gets sorted out in the end.
The primary romance is between Nicholas and Diana. In my opinion, this is unfortunate because Nicholas is a cad. As if his past behavior weren't sufficiently boorish, he thinks Diana capable of deceiving the late lamented Lord Bounty, doubts her intelligence and wit, and offers her further insults. For the first half of the book, he's trying to talk her into becoming his mistress. This is a fine way to treat the respectable widow of his honored friend!
Diana's an appealing heroine. She's a loyal friend and an intelligent hostess. The only reservation I have about her is she's spent a decade pining over her disastrous love affair with Nicholas. While Lord Bounty was less a husband than a surrogate father to her, surely his example should have demonstrated that all males aren't cut from the same mold as the unscrupulous Nicholas. Of course, eventually Nicholas becomes aware of Diana's admirable qualities, but it certainly takes him long enough and his explanation of why he behaved as he did is specious at best.
Personally, I preferred the secondary romance between Chloe and Charles. Here are two characters struggling against society's conventional expectations for them. Their families either fail to recognize their character and unique qualities or fail to appreciate them. While the thought of Nicholas's being trapped in a stifling marital relationship didn't particularly bother me (good riddance!), the thought of the spirited Chloe being doomed to wedded tyranny with the repressive George did.
There's no question but that Sophia and George are meant for each other – they'd make almost anyone else miserable. I'd prefer not to dwell on any children they might have. (Actually Sophia and George will have the last laugh. In just a few more decades, England will be into the Victorian Age, and they'll feel vindicated.)
If you have a forgiving nature, perhaps you won't find the cad – I can't call him a hero – as offensive as I did. If this book had a more worthy hero, I'm sure I would have given it a higher rating. There's much to enjoy in this entertaining story, and I don't doubt that many readers will consider it worth their time.