Wednesday, December 21, 2011

TBR Challenge - It's Not Wallpaper But It's Still Not to My Taste

Over at AAR, Lynn Spencer posted a great piece on what a shame it is that so many Regency romances don't bother to take place in the Regency period.

Chatsworth House

Coincidentally, my TBR Challenge read for December is A Regency Christmas, a holiday anthology from Signet. It was published in 1989, theoretically the heyday of more historically appropriate regency romance. Apart from the issue of the value of money, which no one seems to get right,* there's enough of the flavor of the Regency period. For example, The Kissing Bough by Patricia Rice has two gentlemen soldiers returning from the Peninsular Wars. Gayle Buck's Old Acquaintances turns on a misunderstanding between the hero and heroine that resulted in her ending their engagement (four years before the story starts) without much discussion. That seems consistent with the lack of contact even engaged couples had back then; at one point Judith tells her erstwhile fiancé that there's been no opportunity to discuss anything: "Whenever we were private, we either fought or you kissed me."

Mistletoe in the wild
[It was at this point in my reading this post aloud to Brit Hub 2.1 that he pointed out how most of our ideas of what Christmas looks like come from the Victorian time. There's a wreath on the door in the cover illustration--a classic Allan Katt scene--and of course that's Victorian. But, to all five authors' credit, none of the Victorian traditions, such as ornaments and trees, show up in this collection.]

Alas, for all their sense of time and place, four of the five stories aren't romantic enough. Hell, one of them--Edith Layton's The Duke's Progress--literally doesn't identify the heroine (!) until the last two pages (!!). Drawn-out misunderstandings, the inconvenience of far too many extra characters (lecherous in one story and larcenous in another), and downright dawdling all add up to slow pacing and a distinct feeling that historical accuracy isn't enough on its own.

Mind you, I didn't need blatant sex. I needed romance. I needed the hero and heroine to meet each other quickly and have a relationship. Admittedly a troubled relationship, but one of interest or intrigue that leads to love. You'd think in a novella, this wouldn't have been hard, but it isn't until the very last story that the reader gets all the angsty goodness and charm of love rekindled.

Mary Balogh's The Star of Bethlehem makes up for the other four stories. It's got its own problems--we're asked to believe that a husband and wife can have marital relations for TWO YEARS and never discover that they love each other (well, maybe that's historically accurate, who knows)--but it's charming and sweet. And very romantic. I can't say much about the plot because I liked its surprising elements for just that reason: they surprised me. Period detail, a lovely romance, and even some surprises? Skip the other five stories, but don't miss this one.

* Here's the Parliamentary white paper on the subject, now updated to 2002. Yes, £1 in 2002 was the equivalent in absolute terms of £8 in 1812, but £1 in 1812 had the same purchasing power as £50 pounds in 2002.

So when the innkeeper decides to charge £2 for each member of a party of 8 stranded in a snowstorm--because, you know, there was a blizzard every single Christmas during the Regency--that would be the equivalent of £800 in 2002 terms. And they didn't all get separate rooms, either. For a night's lodging in a 3-star hotel, maybe, but that seemed a bit extreme for the coaching inn equivalent of a Red Roof Inn, even allowing for the market forces at work with insufficient choice and ultimate demand.

Me? I'd have had the innkeeper charge them two crowns per head--a crown for lodging and another for their meals. That's half as much and it strikes me as exorbitant but not nonsensical.


  1. Janet W: I didn't think there was a Regency Christmas collection I hadn't read -- but this may be one. So impressed that not a single author slipped in a Victorian element: the amount of research everyone does -- and then carries so lightly -- is really something. I liked the Balogh story too -- particularly the twists and turns.

  2. That Edith Layton 'romance' sounds crazy! I love her books. They never make sense.


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