The Golden Feather

Lady in Disguise

A Loving Spirit

One Touch of Magic

Scandal in Venice

The Spanish Bride

The Rules of Love
by Amanda McCabe
(Signet Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-451-21176-6
The longer the heroine of this meandering story kept her head buried in the sand, the more I wanted to kick the part of her left sticking up into the air.

Young widow Rosalind Chase promised her deceased parents that she would “look after” her younger brother, Allen. Left little money by either parents or husband, this vicar’s daughter started a seminary for young ladies where she teaches manners and deportment. These teachings are based on A Lady’s Rules for Proper Behavior, a book that Rosalind wrote anonymously, but which has become “all the crack among the haute ton.”

Somehow, on the proceeds of the school and the book, Rosalind is supporting her 18-year-old brother in a lavish lifestyle as he attends Cambridge. Allen purchases clothing and boots from London’s finest purveyors and racks up gambling debts so he’ll be admired at ‘his club’ – an institution founded by Michael Bronston, Viscount Morley, a poet and reputed libertine.

Naturally, Rosalind cannot reign in Allen’s extravagance because it would be unrefined to make a fuss about money. How then, is she to cope when she receives a letter from a bank informing her that Allen, a minor with no assets or income, has been loaned an enormous sum of money and wondering when she, his guardian, would like to pay it back? (I had no idea banking was so slapdash in the Regency.)

To make matters worse, Morley and some of his acquaintances, heartily sick of being set upon everywhere by etiquette Nazis wielding copies of The Rules, set out to undermine them. Sales of the book plummet

With the school term ending, Rosalind determines that she must go to London immediately and see that everyone starts following The Rules again. Conveniently, the Duchess of Wayland is a close friend who can provide her with invitations to all the best parties, as well as the appropriate wardrobe.

This is a book with a fascinating question at its core: are social rules a blueprint for civilized behavior or a straightjacket? Unfortunately, the author apparently had no idea what to do with this question and, as a result, the focus of the book wanders all over the place. The book demonstrates clearly, for example, that naïve young ladies who rely blindly on the rules are at the mercy of unscrupulous cads who don’t, but this issue goes unaddressed.

The characters of Rosalind and Michael are sadly undeveloped. Of her, we see little that is sympathetic. She actually walks around parties mentally cataloguing people’s infractions of The Rules, which is not terribly charming. And, although she raised Allen, self-righteous Rosalind “knew in her own heart that it was not her fault” that he is shallow, selfish and profligate. It’s much easier to blame that unprincipled cad, Lord Morley, who is leading him astray.

This makes her look like an idiot, because we never see Michael doing anything remotely unprincipled or caddish. In fact, he doesn’t demonstrate much personality at all. He just wanders through the book, a bit careless but generally inoffensive, lusting after the “stern, cap-wearing schoolmistress who looked at him with the highest disapproval.” Why he would become enamored of the strict little harpy with a rule book where the sun doesn’t shine is unclear. Perhaps he has some unresolved nanny issues.

Rosalind’s burgeoning desire for Michael – in spite of the fact that she blames him unceasingly for everything that’s wrong with her life – does not enhance my opinion of her character. Her change of heart about him is too vague and convenient to be convincing and, in fact, all the difficulties of the book, including Allen’s bad behavior, are eventually resolved with simple conversations.

When I reach the end of a romance, I want to feel that the heroine deserves her happy ending. If you read the first sentence of this review, you already know what I think Rosalind deserved.

-- Judi McKee

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