Miss Cleopatra Renfield faces a dilemma. Her two older half-sisters have married well, if not happily. Now they want to marry off Cleo to a suitably wealthy nobleman. Cleo, however, has no interest in marrying unless it’s for love. With the help of her elderly chaperone, Lady Agnes DeGuis, Cleo hatches a daring plan. She’ll approach her childhood friend, Leslie Peterborough, Marquis of Hastings, and ask his help in making herself unacceptable in marriage. Leslie will pretend to court her, and Cleo will pursue enough unladylike antics that her family will be embarrassed and silenced.
Readers will spot a huge hole in this setup. If Cleo wants to marry for love, how will ruining her reputation help her achieve that end? Surely no respectable man would even look at her once the ton snubs her. But Les agrees, and soon Cleo is racing her horse across Hyde Park, dancing the waltz without permission, and cutting her hair short. Les, for his part, is more and more intrigued by Cleo, who bears little resemblance to the gawky country girl he remembers from years before. Along the way, Cleo and Les find their arranged courtship turning into the real thing.
It’s a pretty thin plot, and as such, takes too long to resolve. Instead of any complexity, what readers will find is basically a replay of Cleo doing something daring, over and over. Eventually Cleo’s hijinks endanger Les’s reputation as well, forcing Cleo to take a look at what she’s really doing. What started out as a lark on Les’s part is now something more serious.
There are several subplots involving a jealous school friend of Cleo’s and a villain who is only thinly disguised at best. Both felt more distracting than anything else.
In struggling to come up with the right word to describe this romance, “superficial” seems to fit the best. I never got a sense that Les and Cleo were really getting to know one another. Her actions are borderline heedless, and she is quite demanding of Les when she wants her way and he balks. Les is a good-natured sort, but one has to wonder why he doesn’t counsel Cleo to simply say “no” to her half-sisters. It’s not like they can drag her into a church and hold a gun to her head, and with Lady DeGuis as a champion, Cleo appeared to have more power than she realized. The whole idea of having to make herself “unmarriageable” just didn’t work very well.
The Irredeemable Miss Renfield was pretty much, well, irredeemable for me. Regina Scott is a seasoned Regency author with a strong voice, and if this plot line strikes your fancy, by all means have a look. Otherwise, I’d recommend one of her other works.