The Actress and the Marquis

Lord Sayer's Ghost

The Reluctant Bride

The Wedding Ghost

On the First Day of Christmas
by Cindy Holbrook
(Zebra Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-6417-9
Let me begin by saying that the “Think Twice” rating that I have given Cindy Holbrook’s new book is clearly a reflection of my own prejudices and tastes when it comes to Regency romances. I recognize that there are many readers who do not care nearly as much as I do that their Regencies have some modicum of verisimilitude. Indeed, I rather unthinkingly picked this book off the shelves, based primarily on my fondness for Christmas stories and for that great old carol.

Cindy Holbrook doesn’t write humorous Regencies; she writes farcical Regencies. So it doesn’t help that my taste in humor runs to the wry and subtle rather than the broad. Moreover, she seems largely uninterested in mastering the arcane ins and outs of Regency society or Regency titles or Regency behavior.

To show what I mean, let’s begin with the hero, Adrian Hazard, the marquise de Chambert, as he is described throughout the book. Marquise? This is the feminine form of the French word, marquis, referring to the wife of a marquis. Needless to say, this particular usage left me shaking my head every time I came across it. De Chambert? Why the French title for an English nobleman? I kept looking for some explanation of this anomaly throughout the story, but of course, there was none.

Then there is the story itself, which similarly kept my head moving from side to side.

The Earl of Worthington has arrived at the Marquise de Chambert’s house to beg a favor, which the marquise is bound to grant since said earl saved his life during the war. Seems his wife has died and her house and inheritance have reverted back to her family. He asks the marquise to house his daughter Carinna until he can get his affairs in order. Little Carin won’t be any trouble, he assures the marquise and she has her governess with her. So Adrian orders his staff to prepare the nursery and schoolroom.

Imagine the marquise’s surprise one evening when his charge arrives. Carin is not a child but a lovely seventeen year old. And she has brought a baby with her. It turns out that Carin found Baby Partridge abandoned at a posting inn and has brought her to London and to the marquise’s.

Adrian is certainly dismayed at the baby, but he is more dismayed at the age and appearance of his charge. He informs Carin that she cannot stay with him for she will be ruined. But Carin blithely informs the marquise that it doesn’t matter if she’s ruined because she promised her mother on her deathbed that she would never marry.

Thus is the marquise’s calm and ordered life turned upside down. And Baby Partridge is only the beginning. Before Carin is finished following her kind heart, she will introduce into the marquise’s life a young orphaned boy, a “nursemaid” who drinks gin, a mastiff dog and her three pups, five gold rings, six dead geese, seven “swans”, eight maids (all pregnant and one milking), nine ladies (including Carin) dancing at the Cyprian’s Ball, ten leaping lords, eleven pipers and twelve drummers. Cute, no? And perhaps rather clever. But not very convincing.

So if you are looking for a book with loads and loads of completely improbable funny scenes (if you like broad humor), then you will possibly enjoy On the First Day of Christmas. But I must admit that it was not my cup of tea.

--Jean Mason

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