The Jewelled Snuff Box by Alice Chetwynd Ley

The Jewelled Snuff Box

When the Earl of Bordesley married, he believed that his much younger wife would benefit from the company of someone her own age, and employed Jane as her companion. But Celia, the Countess of Bordesley, was a spiteful woman, who went out of her way to make Jane’s life unpleasant, particularly after Jane was given a jewelled snuff-box by the man whose life she had saved, on a snow bound highway…

Rating: C-

I’m always interested when older romances make their way into digital format, so when I saw this one was a freebie for Kindle I picked it up, having vaguely recognised the author’s name as someone who wrote Regency Romances back in the 60s and 70s (and into the 1980s, according to her bio.)

Knowing that The Jewelled Snuff Box was likely to be a quick and fairly simple read, I picked it up one evening planning to whizz through it before bedtime – which is what I did. One of the things about many of these older titles is that they’re shorter than we’re used to and as a result, the characters and plotlines are rarely as well developed as those in the best of the historicals around today, so I wasn’t surprised when I was proven right on both counts by this story.

Miss Jane Spencer is going to London to take up her new post as a lady’s companion when the roads become impassable due to a heavy snowfall and the passengers are forced to take shelter at a nearby inn until the weather clears. As the group is walking to the inn, Jane notices a dark shape lying on the ground, and on going to investigate, discovers the shape is an injured man. He is taken to the inn where Jane tends to him, but on coming round, he discovers that he has no idea who or where he is, and no memory of his life before waking up in unfamiliar surroundings.

Jane and the stranger spend a little time together and a friendship starts to develop between them. When he feels better and the weather clears, Jane and the other passengers resume their journey and the man accompanies them, in hopes of learning something about himself from Jane’s lawyer, who she is sure will be able to help him to find his people and perhaps set him on the road to recovery.

Jane meets with said lawyer, but when she goes to find her new friend in order to introduce him, he is nowhere to be found. And when she finds a letter tucked securely into the secret compartment of the little jewelled snuff box which was his only possession – a letter which indicates he may be having an affair with a married woman – Jane is heartbroken. Although gently born, she has had to make her own way in the world for years, and had more or less given up all dreams of love and marriage. But the stranger had stirred those longings in her, and she had believed they had an affinity for one another – which makes this knowledge all the more devastating.

But Jane is a strong young woman, and heads to the address of her new job, only to discover that her employer the Earl of Bordesley, is married to an old schoolfellow of hers – the archetypal “mean girl” who had made her life a misery.

Celia Bordesley is petulant, spoiled and the sort of character who needs a good slap. Her much older husband indulges her to a point, and actually, I’d have liked to have got to know him a little more, as it’s clear from his interactions with Celia that he sees a lot more than he lets on and is well aware of his wife’s nature even as he can’t help being drawn to her youth and beauty.

There are revelations ahead about Jane’s family, and about the identity of her mystery man and the true nature of his involvement with the lady mentioned in the note as “C” (bet you can’t guess who she is! :P), and of course all ends well. Dating from 1977, the book is of course squeaky clean, and while it’s much as I expected – short and lightweight – it was easy to read and held my attention for the couple of hours it took to read it. The downside is that the characterisation is incredibly thin and the mystery element of the plot isn’t all that mysterious or well-developed.

I picked this up when it was free and also have The Guinea Stamp (which was also a freebie when I got it), but I’m not sure I’d have purchased any more at full price. That’s not to say this is a dreadful book – it isn’t. It’s well written and has echoes of Georgette Heyer and Jane Aiken Hodge – although it’s most definitely NOT in the same class as Heyer – and if you’re looking for something clean and simple that doesn’t come with the bucketful of angst typical of today’s HRs (and I’m not complaining about that – I love me some angst!) and something reminiscent of the time when the door (and the book) closed on a kiss, you might like this one.

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