For July, the challenge was to dig something “classic” out of the TBR — a book, an author, a trope, something classic in the genre. Wikipedia says “classic” is something that’s “a perfect example of a particular style, something of lasting worth or with a timeless quality.” Thanks to my friend Janet, a brilliant used book shopper who likes to share her finds, I had a book in the print TBR that fits the bill. The Viscount’s Revenge, by Marion Chesney, is a traditional Regency romance from 1983. Chesney herself is a classic, having written more than a hundred historical novels, and of course the “trad” Regency is a much-loved classic staple of the romance genre.
It’s a sub-genre I haven’t read much in, so I’m less familiar than many readers with the expectations and code. But I do know that Georgette Heyer is considered the model for these books, and I’ve read enough Heyer to see the similarities here. The plot and characters could be straight out of a Here novel. Twin siblings Amanda and Richard Colby find themselves in increasing economic hardship, and a recent attempt to mingle more with their own social class has left them both humiliated and wanting revenge. So they become highwaymen for one night, selecting as their target the viscount who embarrassed Amanda. But they are almost immediately overcome with remorse and cannot bear the thought of selling his lordship’s valuables. They hide the jewels just before they are whisked away to London, where a friend of their elderly aunt has offered to sponsor their social debut.
Of course the old friend is the Viscount’s mother, and they find themselves living with the family they robbed. Hawksborough is engaged to a woman he doesn’t love, and he is irresistibly attracted to Amanda. Amanda’s lack of social experience gets her into trouble as she tries to navigate London society, and several times she finds herself in awkward situations that embarrass her and hurt others’ feelings. Hawksborough finally determines to break his engagement in order to marry her, only to then learn that Amanda and her brother were the robbers who took (and anonymously retuned) his valuables. But of course he forgives her, and all ends well.
While the unwanted fiancée, the Colbys’ grasping landlord, and the female owner of a faming hell where Amanda goes to try to earn money are pretty flat villains, most of the other characters have more nuances. Susan, the hero’s sister, is a reluctant debutante who becomes “an Original” with Amanda’s support, although she is never completely Amanda’s ally. Her mother also proves to have more sides to her than one originally expects to see. Amanda’s various unsuitable suitors are treated with some sympathy, even while mined for their comic value.
There are some interesting subplots, too; Susan’s development is one, and the romantic expectations of the twins’ aunt are another. Some twists are unpredictable. I especially liked how Hawksborough proved more fallible than I expected — a Heyer hero ofmthat type would have figured out the robbery much earlier, and greeted Amanda’s eventual confession with superior calm, having already forgiven her.
This being a “heroine in trousers” book (my specialty, as it were), I was a little disappointed that the device wasn’t explored more. But all in all, I enjoyed the book, and I appreciated the de rigeur looks at period fashion, custom, theatre and even politics (Hawksborough meets with Napoleon on Elba and then gets to say “I told you so” when his advice is ignored and Napoleon escapes). I can see how the conventions of the category give structure within which the author can be creative, and I can see myself reading more traditional Regency, and perhaps more Chesney, in the future.