Lady Meg's Gamble by Martha Schroeder
(Fawcett Regency, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-449-00136-9
****
A new Regency author! And a promising one at that. I picked up Lady Meg's Gamble last week as I was browsing the new releases at my favorite bookstore. I was attracted by one of my favorite plots: a marriage of convenience. I was likewise attracted by the idea of a naval hero. And although this new Fawcett Regency has some of the failings of a first book, I was not disappointed.

Lady Margaret Enfield is the daughter and only child of an earl, but she has had a most unusual life. Her mother died quite young, her father turned to a life of dissolution; she was left alone at the family's Hedgemere estate, to be raised first by servants and then by her young governess. While most young ladies were learning to draw and dance and flirt, Meg was learning about crop rotation, animal husbandry, and herbal medicine. Her father left the direction of Hedgemere in her hands, demanding only enough money to support his dissipation. When he died, he left the unentailed estate in her hands, but Meg discovered that it was mortgaged to the hilt. She is in grave danger of losing her home, with little hope of finding a place in society.

These circumstances lead Meg to consider a plan put forward by her neighbor and good friend, Sir Gerald Mattingly. Gerald suggests that she consider marrying his houseguest and friend, Captain James Sheridan. Sheridan had served in the royal navy from the age of 12, and had distinguished himself more than once. He had also amassed a considerable fortune from prize money. But he has no real roots, no family, no home. James has the resources to save Hegemere; Meg has the home and the social standing to provide a place for James.

And so, the bargain is made. But James also has a shameful secret, one which he believes will turn Meg from him. But Meg will not be swayed by the petty gossip mongering of her neighbors or by their small minded prejudices.

We have, thus, a fairly standard "marriage of convenience" story with a few interesting twists. James and Meg have to work out more than a few kinks in their relationship. Both are all to used to command. And James has to overcome the insecurities that are rooted in his birth and childhood. Schroeder deals with these problems in an interesting and mostly believable fashion, although she does have a tendency to overdo James' doubts and fears..

Although my editor frowns on this, I'm going to give Lady Meg's Gamble a "qualified" recommendation. I do this because while I liked the story and the characters, this has the feel of a heavily edited book. There were a few too many threads left hanging, that might well have been dealt with effectively in a longer version. I also felt that the secondary romance was either too extensively recounted or not extensively enough developed.

Yet, ultimately, I feel comfortable recommending Lady Meg's Gamble to fans of the Regency genre. I read it in one sitting, kept turning the pages, and cared about the heroine and hero. Schroeder is a promising new Regency author and I look forward to watching her develop her writing talent. Her feel for the era is already obvious.

--Jean Mason


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