Duchess for a Day

Potent Charms

Mightier Than the Sword
by Peggy Waide
(Leisure, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8439-4842-6
I alternately grinned and groaned through this book - grinning at the likable characters and energetic twists and turns of the plot, and groaning at the liberties taken with the period. If you’re knowledgeable about the Regency and a stickler for this sort of thing, the charm of this book may escape you, which would be a shame.

Adam Hawksmore, the fifth Earl of Kerrick, is returning to England after three years fighting in the Peninsular Wars and eight months in a French jail after being framed for treason. Wounded during his escape, and hunted by the authorities, Adam sneaks into his ancestral home though a secret passage in the dead of night.

Expecting Kerrick Castle to be empty, Adam is astonished to find his bed occupied by Rebecca Marche, sent to Kerrick Castle by her father. Adam’s parents were killed when he was just thirteen and Becca’s father, who “had simply appointed himself” Adam’s guardian, has had charge of his estate while Adam was off fighting on the Continent.

Becca’s father started life on the London docks, where he rose from poverty to become the wealthy owner of a successful shipping company, marry an earl’s daughter, and be granted his own earldom. He is also described as a true champion of free will, and a man who spurns society’s tenets. He made sure that his daughter was educated, taught her “a number of skills more common to men” and always encouraged her to speak her mind. In spite of all this, the Earl and his family are on terms of complete intimacy and acceptance with the highest echelons of Society.

Becca, who is “willful, impatient and impetuous” as well as being educated and outspoken, recently made a public denunciation of marriage as a form of slavery for women while wearing a pair of men’s breeches. Privately, Becca covers her bases by deciding that she might agree to a relationship with a man who considered her an equal and who truly appreciated her worth as an intelligent woman.

If all this makes you want to run screaming from the room, don’t even bother with the rest of the review, this book is not for you. Everybody else, come with me - there’s good news.

Although Becca’s actions and personality are described early in the book with all the frightening catchwords that usually indicate the dreaded TSTL (too stupid to live) heroine, do not be fooled. She’s actually just a pretty realistic nineteen-year-old. Like many intelligent young people of that age, she doesn’t understand why she’s not accorded the status of a grownup, even though she often (not always) behaves like one. She’s not a deep character, but she is a likable one and she is by no means the caricature you might think from the way she’s described in the opening chapters.

Adam, too, is a sort of Regency Hero Lite. He has all the appropriate qualities - honor, courage, honesty, and passion - but not a lot of complexity. He is a more serious person than Becca, having had the responsibilities of his title thrust on him at an early age. He wants to rely on patience and logic to win the day and is often baffled by Becca’s emotional spontaneity. It is this, of course, that makes them such good foils for each other, and the reader has no difficulty believing that they should ultimately be together.

But for me, the story was the real star. From the early pages, in which Becca hides Adam in her room through their search for the real spy, the quick pace and impetuous antics of the cast reminded me strongly of a stage farce. Do you know the kind I mean? Those funny, indefatigable plays where people hide behind doors and accidentally knock each other over the head and run in and out slamming doors behind them.

This book has lots of that - disguises, false alarms, secondary characters who bumble in and foul up the works, mistaken identities, misunderstandings, rivalry, jealousy, and, of course, True Love. It’s fast paced and it’s fun, and when you’re building a castle in the air, maybe a perfectly solid foundation isn’t the most important thing.

--Judi McKee

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