In Rules for a Lady, Katherine Greyle has tried to make some of the clichés of Regency romance work by treating them with a light touch and a tongue-in-cheek attitude. For the most part, however, Greyle's touch wasn't quite light enough and her tongue wasn't firmly enough in her cheek to bring an unconvincing plot to life consistently.
Twenty-one-year-old Gillian Ames is a by-blow, the daughter of Baron Wyndham and a maid. She herself was employed as a maid to her younger, legitimate half-sister, Amanda Faith Wyndham, until Amanda died after a long sickness (consumption?). Gillian's mother also has consumption, and Gillian knows that, unless she can get her mother a healthier diet and warmer accommodations, her mother will die, too.
Amanda was an orphan whose guardian, Lord Mavenford, lived in London. As Amanda got sicker and sicker, Gillian took over more of the duties involved in running the estate, even corresponding with Amanda's solicitor. When Amanda died, Gillian saw an opportunity to pass herself off as Amanda, travel to London, have a London season, and snag a husband able to take care of herself and her mother.
Unsurprisingly - unsurprising for a novel set in the Regency period, anyway - Lord Mavenford turns out to be, not the elderly man Gillian expected, but a much younger man who had only recently succeeded to the earldom on the death of his father and older brother. Gillian's initial impression of Stephen, Lord Mavenford, is that he is "condescending, tyrannical, and arrogant to the bone." Nevertheless he agrees to sponsor a London season for her, under the aegis of his mother, and then proves surprisingly forgiving of Gillian's numerous escapades.
In part, Stephen forgives Gillian's falls from grace because he sympathizes with her. His unexpected accession to the earldom has forced him into a more formal way of life than he was accustomed to, so he understands Gillian's problems adapting to society's rules. Mostly, however, he is forgiving because he finds the impetuous young woman attractive.
And Gillian does have problems. The mottoes that begin each chapter hint at which rule of etiquette that Gillian will breach in that chapter:
"A lady always wears her hat in public."
"A lady does not sit on top of coaches."
"A lady does not run barefoot after cutthroats."
As you can see, some of the rules cover quite unlikely situations. I could tolerate the unlikely ones, although some of them suffer from over-use. Why, I wondered, did Gillian have to rescue a London street urchin in the second chapter? The situation can, I suppose, be used to delineate character, but it has been done so many times before. Still, while I could handle unconventional behavior, I had more difficulty with rudeness.
For instance, listening at keyholes is not an endearing trait. Opening the door and bursting into the conversation you have thus overheard is rude, especially since the conversation in question dealt with business matters that did not affect Gillian at all. Using a wire to pick the locks on your guardian's desk may be somewhat excusable on the grounds of the ends justifying the means. Filching your guardian's diary from that locked desk and taking it back to your room to read…I find behavior like that hard to forgive.
Furthermore, I found Gillian's rude behavior out of character. Gillian might not have known that she shouldn't ride outside on the coach or that she must keep her hat on in public, but her mother had been a maid and she herself had been trained as a maid. I feel certain she was brought up to respect the privacy of others.
For all her imperfections, Gillian is a more rounded character than Lord Mavenford. Stephen never came to life for me. For the most part, we see him only as Gillian's satellite: angry at her, wanting her, defending her to his mother, jealous of the suitor she acquires. He is tall, dark, athletic, and very much a stock Regency aristocrat. No surprises here.
All in all, I have to rate Rules for a Lady a weak three-heart read. Competent writing, an intermittently appealing heroine, and several suspenseful episodes barely overcome a trite and improbable plot.
--Nancy J. Silberstein