The Bartered Heart

The Discarded Duke

Keeper of the Swans

Prospero's Daughter

The Rake's Retreat

The Ramshackle Suitor

Reclaiming Lord Rockleigh

Regency Christmas Spirits

 
The Kindness of a Rogue
by Nancy Butler
(Signet Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-451-21353-X
**
This meandering book can’t decide whether it wants to be a Gothic or a traditional Regency. Unfortunately, it isn’t a good example of either.

En route to Tregallion House in Cornwall, to take up her new position as governess to Ileana Brashear, Sara Cobb is given a dire warning by a handsome, if rough, fellow passenger. The last two governesses, brought in to instruct Ileana’s older sister, Amelie, disappeared without a trace.

Naturally, Sara disregards the lout’s opinion, as she spoke with Sir Kenneth and Lady Brashear for at least ten minutes before accepting the position and they seemed perfectly nice. Besides, the school where she taught is out of business, Sara is down to her last few shillings, and she needs the job. She does have some trepidation, however; when Ileana was a student at Sara’s school, she found the girl to be “headstrong, temperamental, possibly even malicious.” Ileana didn’t like Sara any better, mocking her and referring to her as Miss Crab.

There is no one to meet Sara at the coaching inn, but she has no money to hire a gig, take a room or even buy a cup of tea. The landlord doesn’t want her cluttering up his passageway, so he arranges with Grenville Martyn to take her to Tregallion, since he’s going in that direction anyway. Recognizing him as the chatty stranger from the coach, Sara decides that it would be a better plan to carry her bag seven miles in the dark.

Coming across Sara on the road, Gren just can’t leave her there and insists that she climb up behind him on his horse. He must drop her off at the gate to Tregallion, though, rather than delivering her to the door, as there’s bad blood between himself and the family. Seems they object to his poaching on their lands, and there might be some other, more sinister issues. She’ll find out.

Sounds like a good beginning for a Gothic, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, after this promising start, it turns out there are several important elements missing. The first is any sense of ambiguity. Partly because we spend time in Gren’s point of view, and partly because he acts more like a Regency Robin Hood than the ‘rogue’ of the title, there’s never any cause to wonder if he’s a good guy or a bad guy. And Lord Kenneth and Lady Brashear are unrelievedly nasty and obnoxious, so there’s nothing for the reader to wonder about on that score.

There’s also no sense of danger or foreboding. The author’s idea of suspense is to have characters drop ominous hints but then refuse to elaborate. By the time I got halfway through the story, having heard lots of hints but actually seen nothing dangerous, I just started to get bored.

The author sets up potentially interesting situations, but then apparently doesn’t know what to do with them. Sara must teach Ileana to be a ‘model of propriety’ in order to keep her desperately needed job. Ileana isn’t interested in anything Sara has to say and couldn’t care less if she keeps her job. The solution? Gren writes to Amelie in Scotland (we don’t know what was in the letter), and Amelie writes to Ileana. We don’t know what was in that letter, either, except apparently it contained a personality transplant because suddenly Ileana is behaving herself and even coming to like Sara. Situation resolved, without Sara having to lift a finger. Not exactly riveting stuff.

Unlike the best Regencies, this book isn’t a character study either. Neither Sara nor Gren gets beyond two dimensions, partly because for long stretches of the book nothing much happens so we don’t learn anything new or interesting about the characters. Towards the end, there’s a flurry of activity, interrupted by lengthy conversations in which the characters explain things to each other. Fascinating for them, possibly, but a bit tedious for the reader.

Nancy Butler has written several well-regarded Regencies in the past and undoubtedly has many fans. Unfortunately, I think they’re going to be sadly disappointed in this one.

--Judi McKee


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