The Napoleonic wars are at their height on the Continent when Miss Euphemia Buchanan, young, much sought-after, and unattainable, decides to journey from London to Bath with her brother Simon and her young page Kent to spend the Christmas holidays with Great Aunt Lucasta. Along the way, she entreats Simon to detour past the imposing lines of Dominer, the palatial country estate of Garret Hawkhurst, the appallingly dangerous rake responsible (or so it is rumored) for the deaths of his own wife and child.
But disaster strikes in the form of a landslide, and the Buchannan’s coach is overturned and brought within inches of complete destruction. It is only through the bravery and immediate efforts of a passing gentleman that Euphemia and her wounded brother and page are rescued at all. But Euphemia’s grateful thanks turn to horror when she realizes her rescuer is none other than the infamous Garrett Hawkhurst, and that she has no recourse but to help Simon and Kent convalesce within the walls of Dominer itself…
Patricia Veryan wrote around thirty-five historical romances set in the Georgian and Regency periods between 1978 and 2002, and until recently, they were all out of print. Fortunately, over the last few years, many have been made available digitally, and I read The Wagered Widow for one of last year’s TBR Challenge prompts. Ms. Veryan’s books are often compared to Georgette Heyer’s, and on the strength of the couple I’ve read, I’d certainly say they’re worth checking out if you’re a Heyer fan. Ms. Veryan seems to have had a similar gift for writing observational humour and sparkling dialogue, and for creating interesting characters who operate within the societal norms of the period. But while the vast majority of Heyer’s books are set in the Regency, many of Patricia Veryan’s take place in the Georgian era ; two series – The Golden Chronicles and Tales of the Jewelled Men – are set in the early-mid 18th century, and I certainly plan on reading those as soon as I can find the time.
My choice for March’s Prompt of Sugar or Spice was Some Brief Folly, which IS set in the Regency and is the first (loosely linked) book in the author’s Sanguinet Saga. It’s one of those rake-of-blackest-reputation-meets-spunky-heroine stories, and there’s definitely a more than a little of Venetia’s Damerel in our hero, Garret Hawkhurst, and The Grand Sophy’s titular character in our heroine, Miss Euphemia Buchanan. But that isn’t to call Some Brief Folly derivative – I think most of the cynical rakes in historical romance owe something to Damerel anyway – because it’s definitely got a life of its own, and one of its storylines takes a particularly unusual direction.
Euphemia – Mia – Buchanan is delighted when her brother, Lieutenant Sir Simon Buchanan comes home on a long medical leave, owing to a serious shoulder injury sustained while fighting with Wellington’ forces in Spain. With Christmas approaching, they make plans to travel to Bath to spend the festive season with their Aunt Lucasta and other members of their family, but what is supposed to be a brief detour to take a peek at Dominer, the grand residence of Garret Hawkhurst – an infamous rake widely believed to have killed his wife and son – leads to a serious accident in which their coach is overturned. Fortunately, help arrives quickly in the form of the dangerous Hawkhurst himself and his servant, but while Euphemia and Simon are quickly dragged from the wrecked carriage, Euphemia’s page, Kent (whom she had rescued from a cruel chimney sweep some months earlier) has been thrown over the edge of a steep cliff, and is barely hanging on for his life. To Euphemia’s astonishment, Hawkhurst immediately sets about a rescue, endangering his own life by climbing down the cliff at the end of a makeshift rope to bring the boy back up – and then offers them hospitality at Dominer.
Mia knows the rumours about Hawkhurst – Hawk – of course, and over the course of her stay at Dominer gleans further information about his past, but she has already realised that the rumours and the reality of the man she sees every day are vastly different. For sure, Hawk is quick tempered and intensely cynical, but beneath that is a compassionate, honourable man who cares deeply for his family and who possesses a sharp, sometimes wicked sense of humour, and Euphemia – whose string of admirers have nicknamed her “The Unattainable” – can’t help falling for him.
The rumours surrounding the death of Hawk’s wife and son are so heinous that any attempts to refute them proved so impossible that he eventually gave up trying and retreated to his country estate, where he now lives with his two aunts, his cousin (who is his heir) and his younger sister, Stephanie. Euphemia is unlike the women who so often set their caps at him – or rather, at his wealth; she’s funny, down-to-earth and doesn’t flinch at his bad moods and sharp tongue. She used to follow the drum with her father, so it takes a lot to faze her; a characteristic which proves invaluable, especially in the later part of the story.
Their relationship is nicely done – they have cracking chemistry and their verbal exchanges are effervescent, simply bubbling with wit and attraction, but of course nothing is ever that simple. Hawk’s name is mud and he has no wish to bring Mia down into the dirt with him – and it seems that while both admit they have finally found the love of their life, Hawk’s intransigence on this point looks set to part them.
Some Brief Folly is an enjoyable read that fairly bowls along and boasts an engaging cast, an interesting secondary romance and two very well suited central characters, but it’s a book of two halves. The first – which concentrates on the romance – is wonderful, as Hawk and Mia strike sparks off each other and his true nature is revealed. He’s still a bit of a grouch – with good reason, as we learn later – but it’s clear that it’s a surface crustiness and that underneath is a warm and caring man who has been dealt a tough hand. The second half, though, is devoted more to solving the mystery of who is trying to kill Hawk and why, and while it’s well done, it’s a bit too busy, and there’s one plot point that’s been foreshadowed throughout which is perhaps a stretch of credulity too far.
The secondary characters in the story are very well drawn; scatty, accident-prone Aunt Dora is a hoot, Stephanie is a sweet, kind girl with a steel backbone, Colley (the heir) is a young man trying to find his place who worships his cousin even though they are frequently at odds, and Simon is a decent man caught between a rock and a hard place who has to make some hard choices. His is the interesting direction I mentioned earlier; he’s married to a woman who married him for money and status who, when the book opens, has just given birth to a second child Simon can’t have fathered. He wants a divorce and she won’t give him one – although the author has tripped up here, because I believe that at this time, if a man wanted to divorce his wife and had sufficient money and influence to do so, he didn’t need her to agree to it. I won’t spoil the story, but Ms. Veryan doesn’t follow the obvious path here, and while that plotline isn’t completely successful, I nonetheless appreciated the attempt to do something a bit different.
Had the book continued along the lines of the first half, Some Brief Folly would have been an easy A grade/DIK, but the change of direction in the second half pulls it back somewhat. Even so, it’s well-written and engaging, and certainly something I’d recommend to historical romance fans who don’t mind sacrificing steam in favour of witty banter and good ol’ sexual tension.