|Miss Frazer’s Adventure is one of the most original Regencies in quite a while, at least for the first fifty pages. After that, it’s strictly up to your personal taste whether the rest will satisfy.
When the story opens Miss Kate Frazer, dutiful daughter of a wealthy squire, is standing at the altar waiting for her fiancé to show up. She’ll have a long wait. Lucius Duval, Earl of Calfield, is at that moment aboard one of his ships, having dragged his feet so long that he’s now missed his wedding entirely. Since theirs is no love match, Luce might be forgiven his reluctance to marry a near-stranger. He’s the new heir to an impoverished estate; Kate is the meek neighbor girl whose father will send her off with an obscenely large dowry. Luce reasons that mild-mannered Kate will accept his apology and they can reschedule the wedding.
He’s in for a shock. Kate, humiliated in front of the assembled guests, thinks her mother’s legacy is raising its ugly head. Her mother, a “scandalous jade” who ran off and left her husband, was the subject of whispers for years. Kate kept her head down and let her father manage her life. But no more. Kate has had it up to here with men telling her what to do. It’s time to live a little, to experience life. She’s going to London.
Posing as a widow, and deceiving her father by pretending she’s going to visit an aunt in another county, Kate and her cousin Julia travel to London and settle in a respectable hotel. Julia returns home, and Kate embarks on a heady round of museums, shops, and light entertainments. She makes the acquaintance of Lord Thorpe, a gentleman who offers to escort her and who may have more than that on his mind. All looks rosy, until Lucius turns up, furious at Kate and wanting her back. In polite Regency terms, she tells him to get lost. No way is she going to marry a cad who only wants her money.
Luce is stunned, and isn’t sure what to do. This is quiet, shy Kate? Where did this lively, seductive redhead come from? And how is he to convince her that they might have much more than an arranged marriage? It’s true – he was going to marry her mainly because of her dowry. But now Luce finds he’s genuinely attracted to Kate, and she won’t give him the time of day. If he’s to win her back, he’ll have some hard work ahead of him.
The opening chapters were terrific. Kate, frustrated and defiant, is plenty of fun as she determinedly breaks free and hauls herself off to the city to enjoy herself. I did wonder at her ability to wander around the city alone, even as a “respectable widow.” This seemed a little unrealistic. But the main problem with the story is the conflict. The author painted herself into a corner in a way, because after she’s jilted, Kate believes that Luce only wants her for her dowry, and with good reason. No matter what Luce declares, she doesn’t trust his motives. So the story is one long tale of Luce trying to win Kate, and Kate declaring he’s only after her money and pushing him away, over and over. It’s a no-win situation, especially for the reader, and it gets tiresome.
Some very strange, clunky prose doesn’t help things along, either. Ms. Raleigh seems positively addicted to the word “maiden” and uses it to describe just about every young woman in every possible circumstance, even when “lady”, “woman”, “girl”, or even that Regency staple, “chit”, would have worked far better. It popped up so often that I began turning down the page corners whenever it appeared. By the twenty-fifth corner, I was gleefully playing “Whack-a-Maiden” in my head rather than immersing myself in Kate and Luce’s adventures. Not a good sign, obviously.
And yet, the story has a lot of charm, because what reader wouldn’t sympathize with Kate? Bossed around by her father, jilted in front of everyone she knows, and now free to choose a new suitor … it’s heady stuff, and Kate makes the most of it. She’s more annoyed at her attraction to Luce than anything else, at least at first. And the author takes the high road with Lord Thorpe, rather than make him a cardboard villain.
There’s quite a bit to enjoy in Miss Frazer’s Adventure. If you have a high tolerance for maidens, you’ll likely find it an entertaining read.