The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton is a book as good as its title, a terrific addition to Miranda Neville’s Burgundy Club series. These books feature characters who are unique and likable; combined with Neville’s talent at putting a special twist on familiar romance devices and her sparkling sense of humor, the result is a very entertaining book.
Celia herself is delightful as a character. Already the victim of some classic romance backstory (orphaned, left penniless, forced to work as a governess, dumped by her fiancé because of false rumors), she begins the book kidnapped and being deprived of her clothes. Left alone, she escapes in her shift, but she is soon joined by Tarquin Compton, the man who ruined her society debut. Knocked unconscious and robbed, Tarquin comes to with a case of amnesia. Celia takes her revenge by telling him that he’s an aspiring clergyman named Terrence Fish, to whom she is engaged. They travel together through the Yorkshire countryside, trying to find a friend of the Seaton family whom Celia hopes will help her.
Of course Tarquin’s memory returns, but in the interim he and Celia have fallen for each other. Neither will admit it, naturally, until they have some more adventures and drive each other a bit more crazy. There’s a suspense plot behind Celia’s kidnapping, and she has to prove that she can be a success in high society. That’s all carried out pretty well, but it’s not what makes this book special. No, it’s the humor, the chemistry, the liveliness, and the genuine warmth of emotion that kept me up reading this book into the wee hours.
A lot of the humor comes from the literary device of the “book within a book” — in this case, a piece of 18th-century erotica about the sexual adventures of a young man. Celia reads the book, which Tarquin has acquired for his collection, and it arouses (heh) her curiosity, among other things. As Neville points out in her author’s note, using a book to give sexual knowledge to a virginal heroine is a familiar device, and here the author chose an actual period text, which she quotes to great comic effect. It’s this kind of thing, a fresh or funny take on familiar elements of romance that I found so charming about this novel.
I also enjoyed the country setting, particularly the places and people of Yorkshire. In addition, it was fun to revisit characters from the earlier books in the series, especially Lady Diana’s family (delightful eccentrics). I’m counting on romances for at least two of these secondary characters eventually. I don’t think one has to have read the earlier books to appreciate this one, but I believe fans of the first two will find this a worthy sequel.