Lord Caldwell & the Cat

Miss Chambers Takes Charge
by Joy Reed
(Zebra, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-6581-7
As I read the opening chapters of Joy Reed’s new Regency romance, I was pretty sure that this was going to be a four heart book. Indeed, this opinion stayed with me through the first third of the story. Then came the romance, and, unfortunately, the originality which caught my interest at the outset waned. Instead, we had a pretty standard “nobleman’s love for lovely companion is threatened by nasty, snotty upper class wannabe fiancée with a lecherous dandy thrown in for good measure.” Too bad.

What attracted me in the first chapters was the premise. Claudia Chambers is the daughter of a gentleman whose family fell on hard times after his death. Claudia’s mother managed to find a way to insure her brother a good education and now he is an up and coming barrister, well on the way to restoring the family fortune. He is devoted to his sister, but unfortunately has married a shrew. Claudia wants to get out of the house so she starts looking for a position.

Claudia answers an advertisement to serve as a lady’s companion. She discovers that her potential employer is a most unusual lady. Lady Rexford is the widow of a wealthy Viscount. But before she married, she was his housekeeper. Thus, while she is quite wealthy, she is not socially accepted. Lady Rexford finds herself having to visit the family estate in Yorkshire. She is very fearful of the reception she will receive. Her nephew, the new Lord Rexford, had disapproved of his uncle’s marriage. Lady Rexford has to go north to deal with estate business and she is very nervous about the idea. She wants a genteel companion to help her navigate the perilous waters of country society.

Claudia proves to be the perfect choice. She takes charge of her employer’s wardrobe, gives her lessons in self-assertion, and becomes her defender against the slurs of those who would look down on her ladyship because of her lowly origins. Claudia soon shows herself to be a young woman of intelligence, charm and strength. Indeed, she does not hesitate to tell the new viscount what she thinks of his unjustified attitude towards his aunt. And as soon as he is taken to task, Lord Rexford realizes the error of his ways.

Which is, I fear, where the story goes wrong. John falls so quickly into line that any possibility for some intriguing conflict dissipates. Thus, Reed is forced into the device noted above. It has always been understood that John will marry the lovely Barbara Brock, the belle of the neighborhood. John has not yet gotten around to proposing and once we meet Barbara and her mother, we can only admire his wisdom. Barbara is lovely on the outside, but proud and haughty and domineering. And she is determined to have Rexford by fair means or foul.

There is much to like about Miss Chambers Takes Charge. Certainly, in the early chapters of the book, the heroine comes across as a kind and intelligent young lady. It is most enjoyable to watch her fight her employer’s battles. Lady Rexford herself is a nice creation, a dear lady who recognizes her limitations and is so appreciative of Claudia’s assistance. The hero is less interesting, I fear. He’s certainly a nice enough fellow, and I’m sure that he and Claudia will be very happy together. However, their relationship, which could have had a nice edge, is surprisingly bland.

So, after a promising beginning, Miss Chambers Takes Charge descends to being simply an acceptable romance.

--Jean Mason

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