Violet by Lauren Royal
(Signet, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-451-20688-6
It was easy to give this book a three heart rating. With its sweet but unoriginal romance, abundance of stereotypes and clichés, and utter predictability, Violet achieves the very pinnacle of mediocrity.

St Swithin’s Day, 1673, looked inauspicious for Ford Chase, Viscount of Lakefield. His beautiful mistress, Lady Tabitha, after waiting six years for a marriage proposal, has eloped with someone else. Ford leaves London for Lakefield to work on his new invention, pausing at his brother’s home en route. Instead of being welcomed for a visit he is sent away with his astonishingly precocious five-year-old niece, Jewel, to protect her from the measles ravaging the household.

Unaccustomed to children, Ford is dismayed when Jewel’s nurse falls ill before they can reach Lakefield and must be sent home. Tired of his older brothers’ assumptions that he’s next to useless, Ford determines to handle the situation without asking for help.

His neighbors, the wealthy but unpretentious family of the Earl of Trentingham, present an obvious solution. They have a young son, Rowan who would make a wonderful playmate for Jewel. The Countess also sees an opportunity; she thinks the intelligent inventor would make the perfect match for her bookish eldest daughter, Violet. Soon she’s sending Violet over every day with Rowan.

Do I really need to tell you what happens when a brainy virgin who considers herself too plain to attract a man with anything other than her considerable inheritance meets a handsome intellectual badly in need of money to restore his estate?

I did wonder why the author chose to set this story in the Restoration. Sure, there are lots of historical references. Ford spent his early life in exile with the Court while Cromwell was in power. He’s trying to create a watch with a minute hand. He has a new telescope just like the one Isaac Newton invented five years earlier. And every once in a while we hear something about what they eat. But the kind of everyday color and detail that would bring this period to life, tell us what made everyday life in this era unique, is missing. Even for the rich, some elements of life at this time could be quite primitive, but these characters wander around in a kind of vague cultural fog.

Even more confusing, Violet speaks and acts like a stereotypical Regency bluestocking and Ford is indistinguishable from a Regency hero. A typical number of linguistic anachronisms slip into the plethora of ‘tises and ‘twases and ‘twouldn’ts. The characters make the very modern mistake of saying “bring” when they mean “take” and, while it’s impossible to be sure that no one at that time ever said “don’t even think about it” or “Me three!” these phrases definitely ring more of the 20th century than the 17th.

Speaking of things it’s impossible to be sure of, while this era was one of great change the author makes a little too free with social conventions for my taste. Violet’s family’s motto is “Question Convention,” however, which enables the author to brush aside any customs or formalities she finds inconvenient. Although where she got the idea that in this era, “a spinster enjoyed freedoms a wife never would” is beyond me (a widow sure, but Violet believes she’ll never marry). And, while he would be able to do anything he wished with any unentailed property, the suggestion that Ford could sell his title to raise money is just bizarre.

Ford is a lovely hero and his courtship of Violet is charming and unconventional. Which makes it all the more tedious that she clings blindly to her prejudices until she finally finds a way to test his honesty. Real trust, either of herself or him, never enters into it. She also has absolutely no sense of irony about giving herself, physically and emotionally, to a man who, if she’s right about him, must be a shameless fortune hunter and a barefaced liar.

Having said all that, if you enjoy a fairly readable romance, don’t mind if the historical wallpaper is of a somewhat inconsistent pattern, and don’t like surprises all that much, this could well be the average book for you.

--Judi McKee

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