The Best Intentions

A Change of Heart

A Garden Folly

Miss Lacey’s Last Fling
by Candice Hern
(Signet, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-451-20161-2
Candice Hern never fails to deliver a well-written Regency with quirky, fun characters and a romance that feels genuine to the core. Miss Lacey’s Last Fling lives up to expectations. Rosalind Lacey has reached the advanced age of six-and-twenty without attracting a single suitor, and now her family considers her to be well and truly on the shelf. So it comes as a shock to the family when Rosie announces she’s going up to London to stay with her father’s estranged sister, Fanny, and see something of the town.

Aunt Fanny, Lady Parkhurst, is the family black sheep. A free-spirited woman with a string of lovers in her past, she is just the person to help Rosie break free of the suffocating lifestyle of her widowed father and disapproving siblings. And Rosie has a desperate need to feel alive and free before it’s too late. Rosie, you see, knows she is dying.

Maxwell Davenant, son of Fanny’s greatest love, has remained a dear friend to her even after his father’s death. Max is also suffocating from an overpowering ennui brought on by too many London Seasons, too many matchmaking mamas, too many simpering misses, too much debauchery and drinking. The suicide of a friend, complete with a “Life is such a bore” note left behind, has convinced Max that he’ll end up the same way. He listlessly agrees to act as a sometime escort for the mousey niece of his old friend Fanny. After all, what does it matter?

Fanny and Max are in for a surprise. The young woman who arrives on Fanny’s doorstep is anything but the priggish little milquetoast Fanny remembered. Instead, she’s a vibrant young woman who laughs in Max’s face and delivers a fine Regency version of “Grow up and get over yourself”, while charming everyone she meets with her high spirits and joyful approach to life. For life is precious to Rosie, and she means to enjoy every minute of it.

Good heavens, you must be thinking, surely there’s a happy ending in all this somehow? Rest assured there is but not before Max finds he’s been looking for life in all the wrong places until now, and Rosie loses her heart to the one man her family will never, ever accept.

Candice Hern has a knack for creating characters who are wonderful foils for each other. Here we have the rake who has seen and done everything, except meet a woman who doesn’t think he’s seen and done much at all. It’s a reader’s pleasure to see Max get jolted out of his self-absorption and into the real world at the hands of the irreverent Rosie. Rosie, for her part, breaks free with a vengeance, but never descends into stupid behavior, which would have been an all-too-easy mistake for an author to make. She’s intelligent and smart, and her actions stay in character.

It’s also interesting to see how the author makes the reader come to care about Max. At the outset, he’s pretty much a big lump of spoiled self-pity, and I admit to more than a twinge of exasperation with his professed ennui. And the suicide of the friend didn’t make much of an impact or feel like much of a loss. It’s hard to feel sympathy for whiny rich guys who have run out of amusements and feel their life must be over. Hern doesn’t even attempt it and keeps the whole suicide aspect in backstory. Still, Max starts out in the same petulant vein, and it’s his growth that is the most interesting aspect of the story. Rosie continually knocks him for a loop, and by the end, he’s grown and matured into a man who deserves a woman like her and a love like the one they discover.

And for a Regency, there’s a surprising amount of sexual tension. Rosie’s determination to experience everything she can allows for quite a bit of leeway here.

Miss Lacey’s Last Fling is sure to please Regency lovers who like stories with strong characters and lots of growth. I just wish Candice Hern wrote faster!

--Cathy Sova

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