True Colours

The Virtuous Cyprian

The Larkswood Legacy by Nicola Cornick
(Harlequin, $4.50, PG) ISBN 0-373-51150-7
What is an author to do when she creates a character in one book, makes her pretty unattractive and unlikable, and then decides to make said young woman the heroine of her next book? Well, the author can do two things. First, she can give the character a backstory that will have tested and honed and matured her. Second, she can provide explanations for the previous unpleasant behavior. Cornick does both in The Larkswood Legacy and thus Annabella St. Auby, nee Brosley, becomes worthy of a good man’s love, if it is indeed her whom he loves and not her inheritance.

Annabella is the younger of two daughters of an unpleasant cit. Several years earlier, she had spurned the attempts of her older sister to help her and married a thoroughly unsatisfactory young man, Francis St. Auby, the son of a local baronet. Everyone thought at the time that it was a love match, but Annabella knew better. Francis was marrying her for her money, pure and simple and the proud if impoverished St. Aubys accepted her because of the fortune that she would inherit from her father.

Then, her father died and it turned out that there was no fortune after all. Annabella’s situation changed into that of despised parvenu. Francis did not long survive her father; he died ignominiously in a drunken brawl. This left Annabella dependent on her very nasty mother-in-law. Annabella becomes her unpaid housekeeper and drudge.

One evening at the local assembly, Annabella’s situation takes a turn for the better. There the local noble family make an appearance, accompanied by their friends, the Earl and Countess of Kilgaren. The countess is Annabella’s sister’s best friend and makes a point of approaching the young widow and befriending her. She also introduces Annabella to one of the party, Sir William Weston.

Sir William dances with Annabella, takes her for carriage rides, and invites her to take tea with his hosts. This singular attention enhances the instant attraction that she felt for Sir William when her happiness comes to an abrupt end. She discovers that Sir William is challenging her ownership of the one property that the lawyers were able to save from the ruin of her father’s fortune. She can only conclude that Sir William was trifling with her for his own nefarious ends.

I guess we can call this a “big misunderstanding” plot and I know that many readers don’t like this particular scenario. But Cornick makes the misunderstanding seem quite plausible. Nor does she depend on it solely to keep the story going. She provides mystery and intrigue as well, as someone seems to be trying to ruin Sir William.

As noted above, Annabella was not particularly likable in True Colours. Cornick does a fine job of redeeming her and making her into an attractive heroine. She’s a widow but she’s only twenty-one and she lacks confidence and polish. Thus, her reactions to Sir William’s supposed betrayal appear quite understandable. Sir William, a retired naval captain, has little experience with the fair sex, so his missteps likewise are in character.

It is nice to revisit the sister Alicia and see that she and her marquess are happily married. The reunion of the long separated sisters is well done. If some of the secondary characters are a bit stereotypical - like the pushy, selfish society beauty - they and the setting give the book a real Regency feel.

This is the third of this month’s four Harlequin Regencies that I have read and all so far have been quite enjoyable. Let’s hope that it’s four of a kind when I read An Independent Lady.

--Jean Mason

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