Rating this Regency romance is one of those times when I really wish my editor allowed us to give plus and minus grades. There is much to like in Seducing Mr. Heywood: an unusual hero and heroine, a wealth of historical detail, a fine grasp of the mores and behavior of the era, a nice redemption plot. However, some slight problems with the story prevent my recommending it without qualification.
The unusual heroine is Lady Sophia Rowley, who figured unfavorably in Manning’s previous book, The Reluctant Guardian, published by Regency Press. Lady Sophia comes pretty close to being a female rake. She was sold in marriage at sixteen by her dissolute father to a brutal rake who fortunately died shortly after the wedding. Her father then found another unpleasant fellow to wed his lovely daughter. This second husband lost his life in a hunting accident.
Thus, barely eighteen, Lady Sophia was twice a widow. Her fortunes changed when the elderly and kindly Baron Rowley, seeking an heir, offered for her hand. She dutifully presented him with the requisite heir and a spare and then took herself off to London with her husband’s blessings where she lived as she pleased. While the number of her lovers was not nearly as great as gossip suggested, she nevertheless lived a far from chaste life. When her third husband died, she thought to marry her then lover, Sir Isaac Rebow, only to have him fall in love with his lovely and innocent ward.
The embarrassment of Sir Isaac’s defection has driven Lady Sophia from society and she has sought refuge at Rowley Manor in far off Yorkshire. Lady Sophia is understandably uncertain about her welcome, especially by her two sons who will shortly be returning from Eton. She has literally not seen them for years. She is also concerned about how she will deal with their guardian, the local vicar, Mr. Charles Heywood.
While their first meeting is not fortuitous, Lady Sophia is surprised to discover that Mr. Heywood is both young and handsome. She decides that perhaps she will entertain herself in her rural retreat by seducing Mr. Heywood.
Charles is a fairly typical Regency clergyman in some ways. The third son of a viscount, he was destined for the church, especially after he excelled in his studies at the university. If he did not experience the “call” to religious life that we now associate with the clergy, he nonetheless takes his duties both to his parishioners and to God seriously. As Baron Rowley’s confidant during his last years, he knows quite a bit about Lady Sophia’s unhappy past and does not believe she is beyond redemption. He is certainly attracted to this lovely woman. But whatever his feelings, he believes he must not succumb to her seductive ways.
The redemption plot is nicely handled. The arrival of her sons reminds Lady Sophia of the love she felt for them when they were little and that having lost their loving father, they need her. If they accept their long absent mother a bit too readily, this can be attributed to her husband’s generosity in always presenting their mother to them in a favorable light.
When her father turns up to try to once again make use of his daughter for his own nefarious ends, Lady Sophia begins to understand more clearly the devils that drove her over the years and to recall the young girl she was before her innocence was so horribly shattered. Certainly, her growing affection for Mr. Heywood is startlingly different from her feelings about the other men in her life.
The plot problems mentioned above center of the machinations of Lady Sophia’s father, the evil Earl of Dunhaven and his ultimate fate. Perhaps it is realistic, but it wasn’t satisfying to this reader.
Still, all in all, Seducing Mr. Heywood is a satisfying and unusual Regency romance. While I do not recommend that readers pay the high hard cover price for Seducing Mr. Heywood, Regency fans may want to ask their local library to buy the book. Then Manning will get the readership her story deserves.