The Marsh Hawk

Counterfeit Lady
by Dawn MacTavish
(Leisure, $6.99, PG) ISBN 08439-6321-2
The plot in Counterfeit Lady is nothing new, but Dawn MacTavish has done a good job with it.  Having read some of her earlier books, I was tentative going in, but thoroughly enjoyed this story despite the familiarity.

Alice Jessup is a preacher’s daughter and knows that she has two choices – marriage to a village bumpkin or service as a governess or companion.  While neither of the choices totally appeal to her, she jumps at the chance to get out from under her strict father’s thumb when offered a chance to be Lady Clara Langley’s companion for the season. Clara is young and entering her second season. Her older aunt thinks she needs a younger woman as a companion who will help steer her into the right match. One possibility lies with Lord Nigel Farnham, an earl. The aunt sends the girls ahead to London and asks an old friend to make sure that the proper introductions are made at the opening masked ball. Clara has heard that Nigel is a toady and requires both corsets and padding in various places to make himself attractive. She convinces Alice to go in her Marie Antoinette costume, make his acquaintance, tell him she is not interested and return home. Alice lets herself be convinced; all the while knowing it will be disaster. But the opportunity to actually participate in a ball has too much allure to decline.

The scenario occurs just like it is planned – except the toady Earl is actually amazingly attractive. Alice knows immediately that Clara has been duped.  Things get interesting when Alice returns home and realizes that Clara is gone. She used the opportunity to make an assignation with another man – one she found more acceptable. When she doesn’t come home, Alice’s masquerade gets much more complicated. The fact that Nigel keeps calling doesn’t help, especially when he knows Alice by her eye color and refuses to believe her tale about the switch.

As we follow a very shallow and stupid Clara and discover that her beau is actually a rake of the first order, out for nothing but his satisfaction, we also discover the spirit that defines Alice. She worries about Clara’s reputation and willingly damages her own since she knows she really has no future in the ton. But Nigel is more than infatuated and is determined to have her, chasing her back to her father’s house with some interesting results that are filled with adventure.

There were parts of this where I struggled with Alice’s martyrdom yet it really did make sense. She was taught to own her deeds despite the consequences. Ultimately she made a very good heroine. Nigel, on the other hand, is the type of hero everyone in this day and age wishes for – the kind that realizes that love is more important than breeding and riches.  He frustrates his peers, but modern day readers can applaud his choices.

This tale also introduces us to Alistair McGovern, another peer who plays an important role in Nigel and Alice getting together. He is interesting and just begs to have his own story. Clara, on the other hand, is everything bad about the ton and had no redeeming value. The other main character was the Reverend, Alice’s father. He treated Alice poorly and there was really no reason given.  This is hard to buy but since it was paramount to Alice’s motivation, I was able to accept it. 

Overall, The Counterfeit Lady is a tale that I got into right away and it kept my attention. I liked Alice and Nigel, which made it easy to accept the less than stellar pieces of the puzzle. This is an enjoyable story from Dawn MacTavish.

--Shirley Lyons

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