Readers who enjoy a Regency romance with a very different setting from London or rural England will want to pick up Evelyn Richardsonís new book. She has chosen Vienna in the midst of the negotiations that followed Napoleonís first abdication as the backdrop for her charming romance between a British major and a fascinating young woman who distrusts love.
Helena Devereaux is in Vienna with her mother, the Princess von Hohenbachern. Some twelve years earlier, the prince had met the lovely and somewhat scandalous widow of an rakish English lord. Charmed by her incredible beauty and needing a mother for his infant daughters, the prince had married Lady Devereaux and swept his new wife and her eight-year old daughter off to his small principality.
The new princess had hoped for an exciting and luxurious life. Instead, she found herself confined to the family schloss by the wars that Napoleonís ambitions to control Germany set in motion. The chance to enjoy herself in Vienna among the glittering royalty and aristocracy of Europe is something the princess cannot resist. Helena is less happy with her situation, but while she avoids the social gatherings her mother craves, she can participate in the much more interesting political maneuvers that surround the Congress. Helena is passionately concerned about the future of her adopted country.
Major Lord Brett Sanford has been sent to Vienna by Wellington to assist the British delegation and to keep his eyes and ears open. Well aware that the women in Vienna are as engrossed in politics and intrigue as the men, he is delighted to meet the Princess von Hohenbachern at a ball. Not only is she one of the loveliest women in the city, but she seems absolutely uninterested in politics. The princess is the perfect candidate for a light flirtation, something the major is very good at. Then Brett meets her daughter.
Helena is unlike any woman Brett has known. While not a raving beauty like her mother, she is attractive enough. But what sets her apart is her intelligence, her grasp of political and diplomatic affairs, and her determination to work to prevent Prussia from gobbling up much of Germany.
For her part, Helena cannot help but be attracted to the handsome and charming major, especially as she discovers that he is a serious-minded man who understands her political views and seems to support her interest. But there are impediments to their relationship. There is first the fact that he began as her motherís admirer. But more important are Helenaís own feelings about the dangers of giving oneís heart to a man. She watched her mother flit from one passionate affair to another, only to be disappointed in the end. She prides herself on being above depending on anyone.
I admit to starting out a bit concerned about the idea of a mother and daughter competing for the same man, but Richardson handles this with skill. Indeed, the princess is one of the most interesting characters in the book. While she seems selfish and shallow, concerned only with her own appearance and entertainment, she is nonetheless a caring mother who is happy to step aside as she sees her daughterís growing attraction to the major.
What makes A Foreign Affair special is the skill with which Richardson interweaves the events and personalities of the Congress of Vienna into her story. The city in the fall and winter of 1814-15 teamed with spies and double agents; conspiracy was the order of the day. Behind the scenes of frantic gaiety, the fate of Europe was being decided. The author succeeds admirably in capturing the atmosphere and using it to create some of the conflict between the two lovers.
A Foreign Affair is an entertaining Regency romance with a difference. It has an attractive hero, an unusual heroine, an appealing love story and a unique setting. Richardsonís firm grasp of the history, personalities, and attitudes of the time enrich her novel immensely. In short, this is a very good historical romance.