Miss Dorothea Darent has no intention of ever getting married, certainly not to a rogue such as the Marquis of Hazelmere. A disreputable scoundrel, he is captivated when they meet by chance and is determined to win her heart, even while she’s busy dazzling the rest of London society. Now Dorothea has a choice to make: stick with her plan to remain a respectable spinster, or run into the arms of her dashing stranger?
I was pretty underwhelmed by The Lady Risks All by this author, but thinking that there must be a reason she’s such a big name in the field of historical romance, decided not to give up after just the one sample.
Tangled Reins is a much earlier work of hers, and I suppose could be termed a “comedy of manners”, as not much happens and it’s cast very much in the Heyer mould – although, without the same lightness of touch and humour.
To say “it wasn’t bad” is akin to damning with faint praise, I know – but it wasn’t. The basic story is of the Marquis of Hazelmere’s courtship of Dorothea Darrent, a young lady of good birth who has lived all her life in the country. Wanting her younger and very beautiful sister to have a London season (and believing herself far too old at twenty-two to require a season herself), after the death of their mother and elapse of the mourning period, they are poised to travel to the capital to make their débuts under the auspices of their grandmother.
Hazelmere initially encounters Dorothea when she’s out berry-picking, wearing one of her oldest frocks with no companion and immediately thinking she’s a mere country lass grabs her and snogs the life out of her.
He rescues her from a difficult situation later when they meet each other while Dorothea and her sister are on the way to London, and because it’s apparent they have met each other before, have to concoct a story to account for this in order to satisfy the strict social conventions.
Hazelmere is handsome and autocratic, has a reputation with the ladies and hasn’t really given much thought to settling down – but begins to think about it seriously once he’s met Dorothea. He marks her out by his attentions at social events, and makes his intentions clear to the ton by paying court to her in a most proper way.
If nothing else, the fact he’s paying strict attention to propriety is as good as putting a flashing sign above Dorothea’s head saying “mine”; but despite his frequent companionship, his gentle teasing and concern for her, Dorothea can never be sure of his true feelings for her.
By the same token, Dorothea is self-possessed, poised and well-able to match him in the verbal sparring stakes, so Hazelmere is never quite sure of her feelings, either.
The story is about (IMO) two strong characters who are not willing to give too much away, and the way in which their guardedness threatens to spoil their potential happiness. I was reminded at various points of Charlotte Lucas’ comment to Lizzie about Jane’s needing to show more of her feelings to Bingley in order to secure him.
There’s a side-plot about an annoying suitor for Dorothea’s hand, a scheme to abduct or ruin her in order to obtain her fortune, various misunderstandings… but of course all ends well.
As I listened (the superlative Rosalyn Landor again turning fairly ordinary material into something worth listening to) I thought there were far too many mentions of Dorothea’s incredible beauty and sparkling emerald eyes (and the same of the hero’s hazel ones); I don’t know if that would have stuck out so much in print, but in audio, it definitely became rather annoying.
Still, it was a pleasant way to spend a few hours, although I’m not sure I’ll be listening to it again in a hurry.