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The Poet and the Paragon
by Rita Boucher
(Signet, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-451-19578-7
****
How paradoxical! One of the Regencies I had to review this month had a neat title, but I didn't like the book all that much. The other had a (in my opinion) simply dreadful title, but the story was great. Just goes to show that you can't tell a book by its title.

The Poet and the Paragon is the title I found clumsy, but the story itself is as graceful as any Regency fan could wish.

Our paragon is Miss Rebecca Creighton, writer of moral tales whose charming but cautionary stories have made her a public figure of some note. Ten years earlier, seventeen year old Rebecca had been literally "left at the altar" by Oliver Rowley, Viscount Elmont. Since her father's death, Rebecca's writing and speaking engagements have supported her family and will make possible her lovely sister Sarah's debut. Rebecca is firmly on the shelf.

Our poet is Sir Michael Fairgrove, late of His Majesty's army and best friend of said Oliver Rowley. Oliver has not adjusted well to life in peacetime and is now under the hatches. He has fled his lodgings in Albany House and is hiding from his creditors in a low slum when Michael tracks him down. Oliver discovers that his wealthy father will tow him out of the River Tick if and only if he marries the woman he once jilted.

Oliver thinks that Fleet prison or exile in France might be preferable; Michael convinces him to comply with his father's demands. And so Rebecca receives an altogether unexpected proposal from the man who jilted her, a proposal she is not anxious to accept.

Michael decides to reconnoiter the objective and so attends a lecture Miss Creighton gives one night near Covent Garden. He finds her appearance unpromising, but when she speaks her voice and her intelligence captivate him. Then, a riot breaks out and Michael rescues Rebecca from danger. Thus begins their odyssey across London as they try to avoid trouble and restore Rebecca to her family, reputation intact. By the time this difficult quest has been achieved, the two have fallen in love, a love doomed from the start.

Michael, a man of honor, cannot court the woman he has come to love because his best friend must marry Rebecca or face ruin. Rebecca does not know the name of her rescuer, so when a financial catastrophe threatens her sister's season, she agrees to accept Oliver's offer. Her reaction when she discovers who her gallant Michael really is can well be imagined. She feels betrayed.

Boucher has created a great hero and heroine. Rebecca has never recovered from being jilted and believes herself to be unattractive. She has no idea how to make the most of her gamine-like appearance. But she has not repined but rather used her talent to do good and to support her family. Her gradual acceptance of her own desirability is well drawn.

Michael is almost as much a paragon as Rebecca. His epic poems about the war, while not a wildly popular success, are much respected. He is involved in helping veterans adjust to peacetime through his Soldiers' Sanctuary. He is liberal in his social and political views. And he is willing to sacrifice his own happiness to save his friend.

The Poet and the Paragon includes a fine cast of secondary characters. Oliver is not a villain, just a young man of limited intellectual achievement who found and finds his betrothed quite intimidating. Rebecca's family is drawn with a talented hand, including her stepmother whose malapropisms add a touch of humor. And the villain of the piece is as unctuous and slimy as one could want.

"Instant true love" is generally not one of my preferred plot lines. I like to see love develop as a result of sustained interaction between the hero and heroine. However, in the case of Michael and Rebecca, their falling in love seemed absolutely understandable and perfectly acceptable. Boucher overcame my particular prejudice by devoting forty-five percent of the book to their adventures together. By the time Rebecca returned home, it was obvious why they fell in love and how they fell in love.

I don't know that I have read any of Boucher's previous Regencies, although a couple sit in my to-be-read pile. I am going to move said books closer to the top of said pile. The Poet and the Paragon should appeal to all fans of a well told Regency. But I still don't like that title.

--Jean Mason


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