The Scandalous Miss Delaney
by Catherine Blair
(Zebra, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-6292-3
Dear Zebra:

As a devoted fan of the Regency romance, I appreciate your continued support of this genre. But please, since you have been publishing Regencies for years, don't you think it's time you found an editor who knows something about Regency society? Devoted Regency fans, the ones most likely to buy your books, can be pretty fussy about all those lovely little details that make the stories ring true for them. (And this devoted Regency fan is perhaps fussier than most!) So when little errors creep into the books, they notice. Granted, we’d prefer that the authors of our tales be steeped in the society they are portraying and get all the titles and mores and fashions and the like correct. But isn’t it the editor’s job to polish the book to perfection or at least make sure that nothing jarringly wrong slips through?

Sincerely yours,

A Devoted Regency Fan

There! Having got that off my chest, I can proceed to my review of Catherine Blair’s new Regency romance.

Let’s start with the cover (clearly the editor’s purview). At first glance, I thought, what a nice picture of two well-dressed Regency folk. The heroine’s costume seemed pretty accurate, spencer and all. Then I noticed a major mistake. The woman on the cover is clearly wearing a morning dress or a walking dress. And she’s leading a horse! The thought of even “Mad Maddie,” the heroine of the book, attempting to ride a horse in that costume boggles the mind.

Then there is the villain, “Lord” Lambrook. AKA the Duke of Lambrook. No, no, no, no, no! A duke is never referred to as Lord Anything. He’s “Your Grace” or “Duke” or “Hey you,” but he’s never a lord. A small point, you might say. But not to a real Regency fan. I really don’t know why Regency authors are so enamored of dukes. But if they are going to write about a duke, they ought to know what it meant to be a duke in Regency England. The character Blair created is no more a duke than my dog Puck.

I guess the plot of The Scandalous Miss Delaney fits the Regency model. Miss Madeline Delaney, daughter of Albert, Lord Delaney (not Lord Albert Delaney) is in her first season and is ruined. At a private ball, she danced a waltz before being approved to do so by the dreaded patronesses of Almack’s. Moreover, she danced it with the notorious “Lord” Lambrook who then spirited her out to the garden where he proceeded to steal a kiss. This embrace was witnessed by a shocked member of the ton.

Madeline seems to believe that “Lord” Lambrook will now restore her reputation by making her an offer. (Why she should reach this conclusion and why her father should agree with her is a puzzle.) When Lambrook doesn’t appear to “do the right thing,” she disguises herself in a musty cloak and a yellow bonnet and beards him in his club (well, outside of it). She actually asks a chance met fellow to go into White’s and ask Lambrook to come out. Needless to say, Lambrook brushes her off. The fellow insists on seeing her home, convinced that she has been truly “ruined” by the nasty duke.

Maddie is sent off to her uncle’s country estate until the scandal of the Incident dies down. Imagine her surprise when the fellow turns out to be her cousin’s new tutor.

Devin Forth has been reduced to accepting this lowly position because his father had wasted the family fortune. He is uncomfortable in his new status (although he is very good with young Freddie). The appearance of the lovely Maddie on the scene reinforces his sense of coming down in the world; he is much taken by the spirited young woman, although he is somewhat appalled at her lack of decorum. (Fortunately, Blair does not draw out his misapprehension about the real nature of Maddie’s ruination too long.) Then, Lambrook reappears on the scene, and, having discovered Maddie’s fortune, begins to pursue her. Devin comes to her rescue. A kiss is exchanged, but then Devin disappears, having been called away because of the death of a relative.

When Maddie returns to London, she cannot get the tutor out of her mind. He reappears as the new Earl of Somerton, suddenly the catch of the season. And Maddie schemes to catch his heart in her usual madcap way.

I guess my main problem with the book was that I didn’t get caught up in the romance. I never really understood why the hero fell in love with the heroine and vice versa. Maddie is clearly supposed to be a high-spirited young lady, but, to me she just seemed young and immature. There was nothing about her character that would explain her appeal. Nor did I exactly understand why she fell in love with Devin. He mostly seems to disapprove of her, although he is conveniently present often enough to rescue her from her own follies.

I ask myself whether my decision to warn other readers to think twice before reading The Scandalous Miss Delaney is too colored by my response to its failure to meet my rather high standards for accuracy. I don’t think so. Rather, the romance didn’t really work for me. But I still wish Blair had gotten those details right.

--Jean Mason

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