I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the beauty of a good Regency romance comes from the execution. Ever since William Makepeace Thackeray made his name skewering the social structures in Vanity Fair, writers have used the Regency era to excellent comic effect…while allowing the Regency’s unique point in history to explore specific cultural issues.
While Nicole Byrd’s Seducing Lord Oliver doesn’t quite achieve the standard of Thackeray (honestly, who could?), it reminded me that nothing beats a good Regency. Sure, I think this could have been a better story, but it’s been a while since I sat down and devoured a historical romance. What Byrd lacks in plotting and story development, she enhances with energy and nuanced characterization.
Juliana Applegate discovers in one moment that her father had an affair with a married woman and the end result was a son. In the next moment, she’s whisked off to London to get to know her half-brother (Daddy might be an invalid but he’s also a bit devious). Due to illness in the brother’s house, she’s then shuttled off to stay with family friend, Lady Sealy – where the lady’s godson, Sir Oliver, is wreaking havoc on the household, thanks to his fervent study of zoology, particularly the live wild animals portion of the curriculum.
What ensues is your basic Regency romp with a bit of mystery and ratcheted-up sensuality. Juliana is not polished enough for London society, meaning her lack of feminine wiles captures Oliver’s fancy. He’s not one for making small talk with simpering women. The two bond over Oliver’s zoology project and, later, a determination to find out who is behind the threatening letters being sent to Lady Sealy. They have a good time together, almost as if they’re playing.
Yes, Oliver and Juliana feel very young, which makes a bit of sense since, in another life, Byrd wrote award-winning young adult novels as Cheryl Zach. The romance is sweet, reminding me that sometimes less can be more. Their physical attraction is on par with your first realization that guys are not just cootie-mongers. Meaning this near-innocent love contrasts with the sexual encounters the couple enjoys – while it’s played as purely physical pleasure, these scenes didn’t ring true to the story for me. It was as if there was no other way to bring Oliver and Juliana to the tipping point.
That being said, both Oliver and Juliana – and even Lady Sealy and peripheral characters – are given depth. Oliver is stronger than his absent-minded professor mien suggests. Juliana must come to terms with the fact that her parents’ perfect marriage was clouded by past actions. She has to acknowledge that her mother knew she was the second choice, yet managed to find happiness.
As is my normal luck, I found myself dropped into a series-in-progress (ah, the pleasure of actually starting a series at the beginning…will I ever encounter it?). Though it was clear that Things Happened In The Previous Book, Byrd is an accomplished writer who left me curious enough to think about working my way backward. She detoured occasionally into the point-of-views of Lady Sealy and Juliana’s brother, Lord Gabriel Sinclair, in way that suggested she wasn’t quite ready to let go of their stories. However, I didn’t feel like these characters were there as window dressing or page filler. I got the sense the character ball had moved forward.
At the core of the story is a mystery – someone is threatening Lady Sealy, a woman who did a spot of work for the government during the Vienna Convention. Naturally, all things considered, the suspects would likely be those impacted by her work; naturally, all things considered, the sleuthing focuses in the wrong direction. The villain’s motivation for threatening the woman is, well, as good as any but not particularly noteworthy story-wise. It’s your basic plot device, nothing more, nothing less.
I know, I know, I sound like I’m complaining (according to my mother, I was born whining, so it’s pretty much a way of life for me). So what that the mystery is lame. It’s the way Byrd limns society that I enjoyed. Regency novels feature young women desperate to secure their place in society via marriage. If you’d lived in a time when you had no real right to property or serious education, you’d latch onto marriage as salvation, too. Byrd skewers two types of marriage-minded misses, even managing to make the more onerous of the two sympathetic. Yes, it’s true! The bad girl has layers. Be still my desperate heart.
Byrd also touches on issues relating to animal research in this novel. In modern fiction, this topic comes fraught with political overtones; in a Regency setting, it can be discussed on a different level. Even the ideas of female sexuality – hey, it’s okay to lust – can be discussed without the modern intervention of morality. Finally, adultery is treated as an issue that is so far beyond black-and-white, new colors need to be invented. Even when you condemn the action, you have to acknowledge the circumstances. This is a topic that is rarely handled well in romance, so I was especially appreciative of the mature acknowledgment of circumstances and repercussions.
I liked this book. I liked this book enough to want to read more by the author. This doesn’t happen as often as it should. So yeah, I say read this baby. Have I ever steered you wrong?
That was rhetorical.