I generally enjoy Barbara Metzger’s Regencies and, indeed, there was a
lot to like in A Debt to Delia: interesting premise, delightfully
unaware hero, a large dollop of the author’s famous humor, a bang-up
ending. If only I had liked the heroine as much as I liked the rest of
the book, this would be a definite four-heart review. Unfortunately,
Delia didn’t do it for me.
Let’s begin with the premise. Indeed, this is a bit more serious than
some of Metzger’s stories. On a battlefield in Spain, Major Lord
Tyverne faces almost certain death. His horse lies dead, his right arm
is wounded and he has no way to defend himself. Then a brash young
ensign rides up and insists that Ty take his horse back to the British
lines. Thus, Ty survives, only to discover that his rescuer, George
Croft, died in his stead.
Going through Croft’s effects, Ty discovers a letter from his sister,
Delia. It appears that she is being shunned by everyone because of a
baby and that her cousin is keeping her short of funds. Ty can only
assume that Delia has fallen from grace, but he determines that he owes
a debt of honor to young George to offer her the respectability of his
name. So when he gets back to England, he hurries off to Faircroft
House to do the right thing.
Unfortunately, Lord Tyverne is not yet recovered from his wounds so he
arrives in a fainting state, but before he passes out, he proposes to
Miss Croft. Delia does not know what to make of this handsome soldier
who has arrived at her home riding her brother’s recalcitrant horse.
But she just knows that she will not marry a man just because her
brother saved his life.
Which is where A Debt to Delia went wrong for me. I know, it is
the worst practice of reviewers to demand that an author write a
different story than the one found in the pages of the book. Obviously
Metzger did not intend to write a “marriage of convenience” romance. So
we have Delia rejecting Ty’s suit out of hand; she will marry only for love!
The problem is that Metzger has so arranged Delia’s circumstances that
her stance makes her seem foolish. Much is made of her unhappy
position. Her unpleasant cousin has inherited both the title and the
estate and wants Delia out of Faircroft as soon as possible. She is
responsible for her somewhat ditzy aunt, a delightful character clearly
devised to add humor to the tale. Her cousin will obviously dismiss all
the loyal family servants for whom no provision has been made and who
will thus be dependent on Delia. Her cousin controls her dowry and is
trying to force her to marry a very unpleasant local lord. And she has
still another dependent who desperately needs her support.
Having set up Delia’s circumstances to be so desperate, Metzger then has
her heroine regularly reject Ty’s offers because she insists that she
will only marry for love. It’s not as if Ty is an unattractive suitor.
He’s handsome, he’s honorable, he’s rich, and he’s the heir to an
earldom. OK, he doesn’t have much experience wooing women and he’s not
much in touch with his own feelings. But Delia’s constant refusals
simply don’t make sense. She doesn’t have a whole lot of options.
Everything else about A Debt to Delia is quite good. As
mentioned above, the book deals with some more serious matters than many
of Metzger’s novels and deals with them nicely. Especially poignant is
the helplessness of women without family or money and the unforgiving
attitude of towards those who stray. But there is also a nice balance
of humor as well, especially the behavior of Diablo, Ty’s horse, who
certainly fits his name.
Here’s where I commit the cardinal sin of reviewers: if only the author
had not made Delia’s circumstances so dire, then this would have been a
book that I could easily recommend to Regency lovers. But I have to
review the book that is, and thus I must reluctantly consider A Debt
to Delia simply acceptable.