Scandal in Venice

The Spanish Bride

The Golden Feather by Amanda McCabe
(Signet Regency. $4.99, G) ISBN 0-451-20728-9
The Golden Feather has a delightful and fairly ingenious premise. The story opens when Justin Seward, middle son of the Earl of Lyndon, uses up his last chance with his exasperated father and is banished to India following a duel over a married woman. Meanwhile, young widow Caroline Aldritch is informed that her late husband has left her penniless. Caroline’s despair over how to support herself and her younger sister takes a turn for the better when she finds herself the unexpected owner of a gaming establishment called The Golden Feather, apparently her late husband’s last winning bet. Justin heads to India and his new officer’s commission; Caroline becomes the mysterious masked lady who owns and runs a respectable gambling club.

Four years later, the Earl and his eldest son are both dead, and Justin returns to London as the new Earl. His mother greets him warmly and insists Justin do something about his younger brother, Harry, who is fast becoming a rake of the first order. Justin, trying to figure out what to do about Harry, accompanies him to The Golden Feather. Justin is mesmerized by the masked lady with the vivid blue eyes who calls herself Mrs. Archer.

This mature man, who is obviously not a rake, likewise unsettles Caroline. She is even more impressed when he helps to settle a brawl and offers to pay for the damages caused by his brother. But Caroline is only a few days away from completing the sale of The Golden Feather, and soon she’ll be living in a tidy house in Wycombe-on-Sea. “Mrs. Archer” will be replaced by Caroline Aldritch, widow. When Justin’s mother decides to drag her wayward younger son off to the seaside for the summer, Justin accompanies them - and finds himself falling for the lovely Mrs. Aldritch. But why does she seem so familiar?

Caroline knows that her past as “Mrs. Archer” would bring censure upon Justin, so she determines to stay distant. But it’s hard to do when the attraction between them is so strong. Adding to the complications are Caroline’s younger sister, Phoebe, who is infatuated with Harry and determined to be a matchmaker for her older sister.

Caroline is a wonderful Regency heroine. She accepts her fate and when opportunity is dropped into her lap, she doesn’t hesitate to take advantage of it. Her plan for The Golden Feather - to run it for a few years, salt away a pile of money, and then sell it - was sound. And here was a bit of a dichotomy. This intelligent woman, who has shown a definite knack for problem solving, spends little time trying to find a way past her fear of damaging Justin’s reputation. She spends too much time bemoaning the fact that she can never be his, rather than trusting him with the truth and devising a plan to deal with it. Since only two other people know her past identity, it didn’t seem insurmountable.

Justin’s portrayal is humorous as he tries to deal with his scapegrace brother, a good-natured imitation of himself four years earlier. Harry doesn’t really mean to get himself into tight situations; he idolizes Justin and sees himself as carrying on in Justin’s tradition, much to his brother’s exasperation. Harry’s penchant for bright, clashing color combinations (which Phoebe admires and declares to be the height of fashion) is enough to make the reader wince along with Justin.

The climax is inventive, and the author avoids the usual “blackmailer from the past” scenario too often employed with this type of plot. At this point the author characterization of Justin faltered a bit. His reaction is annoyingly self-centered and entirely unnecessary. It’s left to Phoebe to sort things out, and a bit of her “spit and vinegar” wouldn’t have gone amiss in either of the leads. I wanted Justin and Caroline to find the determination to solve their own problems, but instead they act like two kicked puppies lapping from a bowl of self-pity. This was a disappointment after having grown to like them both.

Overall, The Golden Feather is an enjoyable and inventive Regency. Amanda McCabe is definitely an author to savor.

--Cathy Sova

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