The plot is a familiar one: rake about town meets strong minded young
woman past her first blush of youth. Rake finds woman strangely
attractive. Rake pursues woman with less than honorable
I wrote these words just a couple of days ago about a different book.
That particular telling of this popular storyline was not quite
successful. Andrea Pickens has taken the same plot and turned out a
most entertaining Regency romance.
Sebastian, Earl of Branford has a dire reputation. He has killed two
men in duels, has cut a swath through the bored wives of London society,
and is reputed to have caused his nephew's death in order to inherit the
earldom. Not a man to trifle with. One late night at White's, he is
drawn into a wager by the Earl of Hammerton.
It seems that there is a young woman just come to London who is "no
better than she should be." She is outspoken, poorly chaperoned, and
clearly fast since she – an unmarried woman – went to view the Elgin
Marbles (all those nude men, you know.) Hammerton suggests that she is
ripe for a spree and proposes that Branford can easily breech her
nonexistent defenses. A bit "on the go" from having drunk quite a bit of
brandy, Branford agrees to the bet.
Alexandra Chilton is not your usual debutante. At twenty-three, she has
devoted herself to the study of botany and to her art: she is a notable
watercolorist and has come to London primarily to determine if her
paintings of plants and flowers can be published. She is also enjoying
the opportunity to discuss her subject with other devotees.
Branford arranges an introduction to his prey, only to discover that she
is an innocent and that she also shares his interest in gardens. (The
gardens at his estate are famous.) Upon discovering Alexandra's true
nature, he immediately cancels the bet. But having met this unusual
young woman, he finds himself eager to pursue the acquaintance. For her
part, Alex discovers that Sebastian is not quite the heartless rake that
everyone believes him to be.
Nicely complimenting the romance is the mystery surrounding the
accidents that Alex's young brother is experiencing with distressing
regularity, a note in code that their father left after his "accidental"
death, and why the Earl of Hammerton seems determined to drive the
Chiltons out of London by fair means or foul (mostly foul.) And of
course, there is the crisis when Alex finds out about the bet when her
brother feels the need to defend her honor.
This is a well done Regency romance. It breaks no new ground.
Sebastian is a familiar hero: tortured with guilt about his nephew's
death and unable to accept a position he feels he does not deserve.
Alex is a familiar heroine: a woman who does not fit comfortably into
the confining strictures of Regency society but whose intelligence and
personality win her the prize. The secondary characters are equally
well drawn and equally interesting.
Code of Honor is a most satisfying Regency romance and I
recommend it without reservations. Andrea Pickens is a welcome addition
to the roster of authors who can successfully recreate the ever popular,
ever intriguing world of Regency England.