Isabella's Rake

My Lady Ghost

Siege of Hearts

 
A Lord for Olivia by June Calvin
(Signet, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-451-20605-3
****
Tired of Regency romances set in London and full of the doings of the ton? Want an interesting look at life in the country? Enjoy stories about soldiers returning from the wars and trying to find their place? Prefer heroines who are competent? Like really smarmy villains? Then try A Lord for Olivia.

The premise is a familiar one with a twist. Lord Edmund Debham has returned to England after serving in the army since he was a lad of sixteen. He had hoped to fulfill his dream of managing his own estate, but his mother, the Dowager Marchioness of Heslington had died deeply in debt. When he finished paying what she owed, he was left with little except the clothes on his back and his horse. Estranged from his half-brothers, he has no prospects.

One night he stops at a country inn and finds himself enticed into a card game. Despite his own undoubted skills, he loses everything to his youthful opponent. Indeed, he even loses himself. He finds himself pledged to marry young Jason Ormhill’s sister Olivia.

Jason is eighteen and tied to his family’s home when all he wants to do is see the world. Jason promised his dying father that he would remain at the manor until the conditions of his will were met, that is until Olivia married her “lord.” This had not seemed onerous at the time; after all, Olivia was betrothed to their neighbor, Lord Corbright. However, when Corbright discovered the terms of the will - that Olivia’s property was never to come into his hands - he broke the engagement. Since that time, Olivia has devoted herself to managing her brother’s and her property. She is a skilled and knowledgeable agriculturalist.

Olivia refuses Lord Edmund’s enforced suit; she not surprisingly sees him as a fortune hunter. But she does agree to allow him to stay at the manor and to teach him estate management. Edmund hopes that he will then be able to find a post as an agent. Of course, the forced intimacy results in attraction. Then Lord Corbright reappears in Olivia’s life, again courting the woman he had once spurned.

Calvin has created a number of strong characters. Olivia, having been once burned, has decided that marriage is not for her. She is bright and capable and beautiful, but a bit unusual as a Regency heroine, given her interests. Edmund was a reluctant soldier, forced into the army by his vengeful half-brother. He performed heroically, but wants nothing more than the quiet country life which marriage to Olivia could provide. Jason is an attractive scamp who wants to escape from the responsibilities he inherited too young.

In some ways, the villain, Lord Corbright, is a bit problematic. His renewed courtship and his motives raise immediate suspicions in the reader - and, it should be said, in Livvy. He and his behavior are ultimately quite extreme and the ending is almost too dramatic.

The romance between Livvy and Edmund is most enjoyable. She has understandable questions about his motives, but finds their shared interest in agricultural matters, his charm, and his willingness to assist her with her sometimes overwhelming responsibilities most attractive. Edmund is almost immediately taken with Livvy, but knows that he has little to offer an heiress. One of the nicest aspects of the book is that we actually see the pair fall in love.

Despite its somewhat “over the top” ending, A Lord for Olivia is an enjoyable Regency romance. One of its most interesting aspects is Calvin’s use of the marriage law that recognized the marriage between a man and his wife’s sister, but held such a union to be voidable if challenged. The book’s unusual premise and setting provide a slightly different take on the times. A Lord for Olivia is another good Regency by June Calvin.

--Jean Mason


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