Regency heiress Philomena Wellesley-Clegg has rather strong opinions about men and clothing. As to the former, so far two lords, a viscount, and a mad poet have fallen far short of her expectations. But she is about to meet Inigo Linsley, an unshaven, wickedly handsome man with a scandalous secret. He’s nothing she ever dreamed she’d want–why then can she not stop thinking about how he looks in his breeches?
A delightful marriage of Pride and Prejudice with Bridget Jones’s Diary, Janet Mullany’s The Rules of Gentility transports us to the days before designer shoes, apple martinis, and speed dating–when great bonnets, punch at Almack’s, and the marriage mart were in fashion–and captivates us with a winsome heroine who learns that some rules in society are made to be broken.
Reading first person in a Regency is always jarring. It makes head-hopping so much more noticeable, and to get an inside look into the character’s thoughts is definitely not de trope.
But once I overcame the hurdle, I found myself enjoying the witty insights and clever inner monologue’s of Mullany’s characters.
It’s a bit more Sex in the City than Bridget Jones; the heroine is far less self-effacing than B.J. and less pathetic (part of B.J.’s charm, I think). Although she has more redeeming qualities than Carrie Bradshaw (I was never a fan), and her naiveté is definitely an improvement from either more contemporary diarist, her very silly focus on fashion to the exclusion of sensitivity to more pressing social issues definitely conjure up images of a modern woman sucking down a martini while tweeting inane status updates.
That is not to say that she is unlikable as a heroine, albeit a bit anachronistic and bound to drive Reg Rom purists bugso. For instance, I think her instruction of a prostitute on the trimming of a bonnet is funny, and while highly historically improbable, nonetheless a good representation of the hidden fish-out-of-water agenda of this Cit in the City story.
For indeed, Philomena is from Trade. And although her would-be suitors are tonnish, the waspish tongues of Town ladies remind us there is no way to completely clean off the coal dust.
Its interesting, and a credit to Mullany, that this is dichotomy of wealth and class is teased out without ever being on the nose addressed. Philomena may attend Almacks weekly, but her riding skills are definitely not of those to the manner born (or to the manor born, for that matter).
She does a lot of weeping. Which, with the benefit of first person insight, is not quite as annoying as it usually is. Maybe, again, it’s that she is so plainly flawed and written with depth that we forgive her, empathizing of those times in our own girlhood when we wept for lack of anything better to do. Experience, life’s hard lessons, thicken the skin–but when we are young every heartbreak is a first.
Without spoiling the story, I will say the hero is likable but sometimes unbelievably silly. He’s not Darcy, or Mark Darcy, or even Mr. Big. He’s more like a reformed Willoughby, who experience has indeed taught enough lessons to give him some backbone.
Ultimately, I think it is the hero’s character arc that is a bit undeveloped. The ending goes a bit pear-shaped, too, veering unexpectedly towards the gothic with a very late introduction of a villain to throw yet another obstacle in this self-narrated romance. I am not sure what I expected, but the final climax felt forced and a bit bizarre…definitely unlikable. Probably a bit of Mullany’s Regency vampire influence here.
Overall, I liked this clever take on Reg Rom and will definitely read Mullany again. It wasn’t as funny (well, to me, anyway) as reviews had promised, but then we have already long-established (see Lord of Scoundrels review) that my sense of humor is not always keeping time to the pulse of other readers. I did find bits and snatches to be amusing, in an eye twinkling rather than guffaw way.
And, yes, the steamy action was tasteful and well executed.
4.5 out of 6, novel narrative, witty and good character depth. the ending wobbles indelicately along the gothic precipice, and it’s definitely anachronistic, but open-minded Reg Readers will enjoy.
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