I am a heretical Regency fan. I don’t care much about historical accuracy. Don’t worry about lines of succession. And, frankly, I’m not all that much fascinated by muslin, sprigged or not. When it comes to reading Regency, I’m all about the style of the story.
Michelle Martin’s The Adventurers, published in 1996 (and sadly out-of-print – go forth, pay lots of money on the black market for this one), is one of my favorite Regencies. Let’s call it my comfort Regency. Oh sure, I adore all of Martin’s work, but The Adventurers is the one I pick up first, second, and last.
Brett Avery, the very proper Earl of Northbridge, is entrusted with the care of the heir of Thornwynd – which involves, among other things, determining which of two claimants is the true heir, navigating young James Shipley (or one of the boys claiming to be Jamie) through the dangerous journey to Thornwynd, and dealing with the young man’s protector – whom Northbridge discovers is not the young male he supposed.
The last item comes as a relief to Northbridge.
The Adventurers is a road romance filled with swords and pistols and daring escapes. Jamie’s inheritance is a prime property, and since he, his deceased father, and Isabel, our heroine and Jamie’s protector, have lived in Europe for so long, few people know what the Thornwynd heir looks like. Still, good villains don’t take chances, and the trio encounters far more danger than is healthy. This leads to rapid costume changes and swashbuckling action.
No, really. I wouldn’t say it if it weren’t true. But action and adventure isn’t what this book makes this book a keeper for me. In this case, it’s all about smart and funny characters. Brett, a rare blond hero, is self-assured, a bit pompous, and intelligent. Isabel, who escaped England due to high crimes (presuming my definition of high crimes matches her misdeeds), is well-educated, resourceful, and the furthest thing from a simpering Regency heroine as you can find. Jamie, as he would say, is a true Shipley. That is to say, he’s fluent in many languages, acting, weapons, and, for a secondary character, inherently compelling. One wishes Martin continued writing Regencies, if only to see if she would return to Jamie. She clearly loved creating this character.
But wait, there’s more! Aficionados of Georgette Heyer adore her mastery of rapid-fire, clever dialogue (note to readers everywhere: unless you have incredible balance, do not try to read Heyer on the treadmill; laughter and moving belts do not mix, trust me on this). Martin isn’t quite Heyer (though this book reminds me of a lighter, funnier The Masqueraders), but her back-and-forth, especially in this book, is hilarious — even ten years and many readings later.
Martin maintains a sort of distant third person throughout the book, with rather haphazard point-of-view. I only notice this when I’m paying extra-careful, non-readerly attention. When her characters speak, it is like watching a Hepburn/Tracy film. I adore clever, intelligent repartee, maybe because I’m one of those “I should have said…” kind of people. Making this more complex is the fact that the central characters are constantly affecting new personas as they try to escape the villains. From traveling youth to dandified fop to doddering grandfather, the characters don’t miss a beat.
But enough about the book. Let us return to my heresy – it really is all about me, isn’t it? Okay, fine, let’s talk about Michelle Martin and the Regency era. Now I’ll admit that I know just enough about the period to fake my way through Trivial Pursuit. Regency fans are a bit more, uh, sticklers for accuracy. I thought about this as I read part of an early scene, where the Earl’s sister worries that he’ll die without issue:
Fanny, with considerable disgust, informed him that in that case, he would die a bachelor. Clearly it was up to her to provide the next heir to the earldom. Lord Northbridge replied that she must do what she thought best, and then calmly lead her down the aisle to her pale but eager bridegroom.
Well, fine, we all know that Fanny’s child could never inherit the title. If you’re a Regency fan, such an exchange signals trouble to come. It’s inaccurate and the author doesn’t even deign to say so. But it’s funny, see, and funny rarely works if you’re trying to be politically correct. Maybe Martin’s mastery of the Regency era is superficial – that I can’t say – but her funny bone is ingrained. In a Regency novel, that’s the key factor. You need to be able to skewer the world, otherwise why bother?
That I can let such heresy pass without worry is proof that I am not worthy of something or other. But when I think back to my favorite Regencies – and I do love a good Regency – it’s not the nitpicking details that drive the story for me, it’s the attitude, pacing, and characterization. The beauty of Jane Austen, and later, William Makepeace Thackeray, was that they were given a society ripe for satire. Good Regency builds on the traditions of these authors.
Which The Adventurers has – even after ten years.
Now for the bad news. This is the point where we traditionally point you toward the author’s website and where to buy the book. As far as I can tell, Michelle Martin either changed her name or stopped writing in approximately 1999, and the only interview I can find indicates that she had no clue why an author would want or need a website. Her books are largely out-of-print. Which is a shame. If you want The Adventurers, start here. You’ll thank yourself.