Not the best of Heyer’s novels, it’s a good story nonetheless. The plot is charming, the characters 3-dimentional, and the dialog diverting. The problem lies in a different direction: the book starts long before the story. For about the first third of the book, the author follows our protagonists in their hum-drum everyday lives, setting the stage for the true beginning. The readers yawn and contemplate abandoning the novel. Then the heroine finally moves to Bath, and the real tangle begins unraveling. A multitude of subplots knot in several preposterous combinations, and a collection of amusing secondary characters embark on funny exploits of the regency society. A love triangle would be too simplistic an explanation of what is going on: it’s rather a love-hexagon, or something equally ridiculous.
The protagonist, Serena, is a 25-year-old, rich, and spoiled aristocratic beauty, much indulged by her eccentric father. After he dies in the beginning of the novel, he leaves Serena’s considerable inheritance in trust, administered by her former fiancé, the arrogant Marquis Ivo Rotherham.
Of course, Serena and Rotherham clash again and again. Of course, sparks fly, and several other romantic relationships are ignited in the process. And of course, love triumphs in the end.
One of the most interesting aspects of this novel is the numbers. By the terms of her father’s will, until she marries, the only amount Serena can receive annually is about £700, a pittance by her estimation. When her father was alive, she spent more per year on her hunting horses.
I looked up the monetary realities of the times on two different websites: Sarah’s History Place and Jane Austen’s World. Both agree that the annual income of a female servant during regency was on average £8. A clerk got £70 per annum. A sea captain – between £150 and £200. You could hire a medium-sized house in London for a year (though not a palace) for £25. Poor Serena, to be reduced to such a paltry sum as £700. I’d like to be in her shoes.