The Holly & the Ivy

Marriage a La Mode

A Regency Christmas

A Regency Christmas Present

The Rakehell's Reform

 
Breach of Promise
by Elisabeth Fairchild
(Signet, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-451-20005-5
***
Breach of Promise tells the story of a man who, having jilted his fiancée (and for good reason), retires to the country to lick his wounds and ends up finding an unexpected love.

Philip Randall Chalmondeley, Marquess of Chalmondeley and Earl of Rockforth, arrives in the sleepy village of Chipping Camden tired, saddle-sore, and dusty. He inquires at a local inn if there are any cottages to let in the area, and is directed to "Mrs. Stott's Honey House.” Only there is no "Mrs. Stott." Instead, Philip finds Susan Fairford, mistress of the small manor house in question. Susan can no longer afford to live there, and rents the house to keep a roof over her own head, though it's now a cottage roof. The honey hives on the property provide her with a tiny income, and she's an expert at tending them.

Phillip is charmed by the house, and offers to rent it for at least a fortnight. He gives his name as "Philip Stone" of Dorset. Susan knows he's lying about his identity, but as long as he has the money to pay for the rent, she doesn't really care.

Philip and Susan have much in common. Both have been deceived in love, though Susan's fate has been far more difficult that Philip's. She's been vilified as a strumpet by much of the village after having been taken in by a man who was not what he claimed to be. Her fortune is gone, and the house and its honeybees are all she has left. Philip's biggest injury is to his pride, having been confronted with his fiancée's faithlessness on the morning of his wedding.

So these two gradually begin to appreciate each other's merits. Susan finds Philip's attentiveness a balm to her heart. Philip discovers just how deep a love can go, and it's nothing like his previous infatuation wit his fiancée. When the fiancée shows up and things get complicated, Philip and Susan will have their newfound trust tested.

I liked the overall theme of this story a great deal. Two adults, both battered by love but not letting it color their personalities overmuch, and both fully aware that there are still good people in the world -- it's refreshing. It certainly works better than the tired "all women are faithless witches and I've been deceived so I know" plot. Philip is charming. He's tired and heartsore, but rather than condemning every woman he meets as another heartless shrew, he instead questions his own judgment. How could he have been so blind? What did he miss? I just wish he'd been more honest with Susan about his fiancée after she showed up in Chipping Camden.

Susan is equally sturdy as a character. She's practical and introspective; the remnants of her sham marriage have faded into a weary acceptance of her situation and a rather distant sense of humiliation. Life isn't easy anymore, but neither is it bleak. She won't let it be. You have to admire a character with spunk, and Susan definitely has it.

So why not a wholehearted recommendation for this book? Well, the prose at times obscured the story. Overdescription abounds, to the point of confusion and exasperation. Here's a sampling:

The place glowed the color of honey, of cider, of a fizzing, pale champagne. The sun hung like a golden bauble, shedding yellowed afternoon light and shadow on the black-timbered Shakespearean temper of a thatch-and slate-roofed town dozing in unruffled prosperity.

Huh? I'm not sure exactly what picture the author wanted to call to mind here, but the image is confused, to say the least. There is an overabundance of similes and metaphors, sometimes half a dozen on a single page. Too much of "eyes…like treetops in a lazy breeze" and a head "like a proud stallion," for instance, can have the effect of making a reader think "Get on with the story!" I'm afraid it had that effect on this reader, anyway.

If this sort of prose doesn't particularly detract from your reading experience, you may find Breach of Promise to be just what you're looking for in a Regency.

--Cathy Sova


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