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Balmorrow's Bride
by Judith A. Lansdowne
(Zebra Regency, $4.99, G/PG) ISBN 0-8217-5430-2
****
I am recommending Judith A. Lansdowne's latest Regency because I just love her characters, her dialogue, her humor, and her clever plot beyond the romance. But I am warning all other historians of early 19th century England: be aware that Lansdowne has concocted the most historically improbable plot imaginable.

However, aware that most readers will not be put off by the idea that the nonconformists (those most respectable of middle class folk by 1812) and the Luddites (that secret, largely amorphous movement of displaced textile workers) would conspire to overthrow the English government, I have no hesitation in advising fellow Regency fans to read this book.

The book opens as Clarissa (Clare) Beresfont is on her way to the remote Northumberland castle of Alexander St. John Sinclair, the Earl of Balmorrow, to marry a man she has never seen. She has agreed to wed the earl because her brother found himself bankrupt after his father's death. And for reasons she does not completely understand, the earl has come to the family's rescue.

Alexander really has no desire to wed anyone. His experience in his first marriage, to a woman whom he loved but who had married him only for his position, has soured him on matrimony. But the Sinclairs owe the Beresfonts big time and the only way Lex can save them from penury is to marry Clarissa.

The marriage does not begin auspiciously; Clare is swept without a moment to catch her breath into the chapel and married out of hand. Then her new husband disappears to take his cousin the Bishop of Leeds to the coaching inn to begin a journey to London. Clarissa begins to wonder what kind of madman she has married.

In fact, Lex had acted so precipitously because he didn't want to give either his bride or himself time to back out. Realizing that he has probably gotten off to a bad start, he sets out to woo his bride very successfully as it turns out. Indeed within a short time, Clare claims to be in love with her husband.

The romance thread in Balmorrow's Bride turns on the fairly common device of overcoming the resistance of a husband who has been badly scarred by a previous marriage. Lansdowne handles the growing closeness of Lex and Clare with impressive skill.

The plot is much more convoluted. It seems that the mysterious conspirators have chosen to create the impression that Balmorrow is at the head of the planned insurrection. (This is plausible because the Sinclairs have a history of opposition to the crown and the current earl is a political radical.) So Alexander is, at the same time, trying to ferret out who is truly behind the projected revolt and to save his own neck.

In this quest he has the help of a most entertaining cast of secondary characters, including his cousin the bishop, his sister the duchess, and his cousin the viscount. That he shares his problems with his new wife (rather than, as is so often the case in similarly plotted novels keeping her in the dark and raising her own suspicions about his behavior) is one indication of his growing love for the very lovable Clare.

Improbable is the only word I can come up with to describe the conspiracy plot. And yet, such is Lansdowne's skill and so attractive are her characters, that even for a scold like me, this lack of historical accuracy did not detract too much from my enjoyment of Balmorrow's Bride. I might add that the puzzling G/PG rating is likewise a tribute to Lansdowne's talent. She kept the bedroom door tightly closed, yet managed to hint so cleverly of what was happening that this reader's imagination was readily able to fill in the details. (And I do have a good imagination.)

So pick up Judith A. Lansdowne's Balmorrow's Bride and find out why so many of us believe that she is the master (or is that mistress) of the humorous, light Regency.

--Jean Mason


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