When I first discovered the novels of Georgette Heyer, I just adored stories of very young women who met and married handsome older men. It seemed really neat. Of course, I was twelve at the time so I guess seeing myself as Arabella or Leonie or Horrie made some sense. Fortunately, as I grew older, so too did the heroines of Heyerís and other romance novels. Indeed, I am hard pressed to think of a very young heroine in any book I have read lately. Thus, I must admit that I had some trouble with the heroine of Barbara Hazardís latest Regency romance.
Lili Martingale has just turned seventeen as the story begins. Four years earlier, she had been rescued from the French convent where she had lived since her infancy by her motherís cousin, Cornelia, Countess of Wyckend. After something of an adventure in Vienna (see The Wary Widow) she had come to live with other relatives, the Moorlands, on their prosperous farm while Cornelia and her new husband, Alastair
Russell, had taken their protracted honeymoon.
Lili has grown into a lovely young woman and her hostess believes it is time she leaves the farm, especially since her brother-in-law Ben Moorland, has clearly fallen in love with her ward. This would be a most unsuitable match, so Mrs. Moorland asks Cornelia to resume custody of Lili. This Mrs. Russell happily does, concluding that perhaps in
spite of her youth, the precocious if naive Lili should be brought out
in the spring.
Lili leaves the Moorlands with some regret, but she is looking forward to her debut. On the way to Corneliaís home, the travelers encounter an accident; a young shepherd has been hurt in an accident with a careless rider. Lili takes one of the riders to task for his cavalier behavior. Thus, she meets Viscount Halpern, heir to the Marquess of Braybourne and a neighbor of the Russells. Later, the viscount rescues her from a
dunking in a stream. Lili appreciates Halpernís good looks, but views him as an older man. He is, after all, twenty-eight.
For his part, Halpern finds Lili lovely and a pleasant change from typical society misses. He thinks that it might be interesting to help smooth her way into society. But he does not imagine her as a bride; both her youth and her undistinguished antecedents make her unsuitable to become the next marchioness.
Any astute reader can predict what will happen. As Halpern spends time with Lili, he becomes more attracted, more intrigued, and finally, he falls in love with her. Lili discovers that her first impression of the viscount was erroneous and likewise falls in love. But there is the problem of her unsuitability, combined with nasty rumors that are
spreading through the ton.
Actually, Hazard succeeds quite nicely in showing us why the viscount becomes entranced with Lili. She is as intelligent as she is lovely, as kind as she is beautiful. Nor does the author ignore the difference in the ages; it becomes an issue, possibly a greater issue than it would have been in 1817 when marriages between people of such disparate ages were not all that uncommon.
Still Liliís youth detracted from my enjoyment of the story. And make no mistake, Hazard portrays her as a real, live seventeen year old, teetering on the brink of adulthood but not quite there. I rather imagine that I would have enjoyed this story more forty odd years ago; at that point in my life I would have found it quite romantic. It worked less well for someone of my advanced years.
Still, readers who enjoy youthful heroines more than I do might also enjoy this book more than I did.