It will be difficult to find a more delightful Regency than The Irish Rogue. Emma Jensen proves what every fortunate romance reader knows: a familiar plot, in the hands of a skilled author, can sparkle like it’s brand-new. And every part of this story, from the setting to the characters to the dialogue, absolutely sparkles.
For starters, the story is set in Ireland, not England. Ailís O’Neill, daughter of a gentleman farmer, lives with her widowed mother Anne, elder brother Eamonn, and great-uncle Thaddeus in a Dublin townhouse. Eamonn is a war hero who is considering a run for the House of Commons. Anne is sharp and sprightly, and bemoans her daughter’s disinterest in the Dublin social scene. Uncle Thaddeus is a rather forthright music critic who writes for a local newspaper. And Ailís?
Ailís pays the local boys to round up wild creatures so she can paint them, ostensibly for a book on Irish wildlife, though her real motive is well-hidden. That she names the creatures according to their resemblance to relatives, and that they occasionally escape and need to be rounded up, only adds to her mother’s despair. When we meet Ailís, she’s dropping a net over a bat that’s fluttering around the dining room. There’s a vole upstairs in a cage. Perhaps tomorrow a hedgehog or hare will arrive.
Exotic pets that escape and wreak havoc are rarely amusing, but fear not -- the animals play a very minor role and are only a background for Ailís’ character. At twenty-five, her interests are solidly rooted in her paintings, and her dreams are just as rooted -- in An Cú, The Hound, a Robin-Hood-style highwayman who robs wealthy Anglos of their valuables and distributes them among the local poor. Here’s a fine Irish hero, a man to take a lady’s breath away. Why has An Cú returned of late, after an absence of several years? And why is Eamonn disappearing nearly every night and not returning until nearly morning?
Ailís paints, dreams, and studiously avoids all but the most necessary social contacts --especially those with Eamonn’s friend Christor Moore, the Earl of Clane. Christor is about as Irish as they come, though he sits in the House of Lords, and Ailís dismisses him as another overblown London nobleman. Christor, for his part, finds he can’t put this unique woman out of his mind. As for Ailís’ fears that her brother is An Cú, Christor knows the truth -- he, Christor, is the original AnCú. But Christor gave it up several years ago. So who is the impostor riding as An Cú now? Is it Eamonn? Can Christor trap the man and find out, before the English militia get to him first?
Christor want Ailís. Ailís wants AnCú, who is really Christor, but he can’t let her know yet, because her brother may be the imposter, and if he is, his life is in danger. Christor decides to “hold up” a carriage with Ailís in it, in order to steal a kiss from her. The two nearly ignite. How can he keep his hands off her until the mystery is solved? Christor is now competing with himself for Ailís’ affections.
I can’t remember when I’ve enjoyed a Regency this much. For starters, simply getting out of London was a real treat, and Emma Jensen brings Dublin to life. Dublin landmarks such as Trinity College and Carlisle Bridge are sprinkled throughout the story, and the slower pace and much-reduced scope of Dublin society allow for a bit of freedom in the storytelling.
As for the characters, readers will take them to their hearts. Ailís is as smart as she is independent, and her honesty and carefully shielded romantic streak is endearing. As for Christor, he’s a wonderful hero. His determination to prove to Ailís that he’s more than just a London dandy, even as he struggles with his attraction to her, makes him sympathetic from the start. I only hope Eamonn has a story of his own coming.
The Irish Rogue is as enjoyable a Regency as you’re likely to find, and a prime example of the best the genre has to offer. This one gets a standing ovation.