Lieutenant Neal Baskerville would never forget his first glimpse of Miss Delilah Mannering, perched upon a stile, her ragged skirts hitched up to her knees, in one hand a half-eaten peach, a monstrously ugly dog sprawled at her bare and very dirty feet. This was the heiress he was to bring back to Brighton, to be taken under his sister’s wing?
This is a longer ensemble type Regency with several different love stories converging on a rompish, Shakespearean level lovers comedy. I had never before read Maggie MacKeever, but am so glad I picked this one up. In a word, An Eligible Connection is utterly delightful.
There are a couple different H/h, including a Duke who is very selfish, known as a brute, and has many of the qualities you would expect in a Duke. The Duke of Knowles, like all of the characters, is multi-dimensional and keeps the reader on the edge of a love/hate relationship with him throughout.
There is the young, impetuous Lieutenant Neal who is engaged to an upstart, Cressida, who is eyeing him for his ability to finally pull her out of the shadow of her father’s Cit reputation. Neal is infatuated with Cressida’s beauty, but soon finds that they won’t suit.
There is his sister, Binnie, who is cousin cum housekeeper to the Duke and seems to be nursing a bit of a long-standing broken heart. She is the sassy older type heroine that many who read Heyer will find familiar, although she has some eccentricities that make her very endearing.
Finally, there is the great and mysterious heiress, who has been trapped in a tinkers camp for years and learned any manner of unladylike habits, including lying, stealing, and in general being a brass bit o’ baggage. Delilah is that high flyer, sassy young heroine who undertakes on the sly to fix everyone’s problems through her often chaotic machinations.
An Eligible Connection has a very complicated, layered plot that probably exhausts readers who have left a couple less than stellar reviews online. It’s not for the Regency newbie, for sure, as the reader will need to be able to juggle a second-chance romance, a villain, a marriage of convenience, a secret baby, misunderstandings, and any number of other tropes. In other words, read this one prepared to do a lot of head-hopping as well as keeping up with multiple plot devices. As comfortable as I am with the genre, tropes and character archetypes I didn’t have a problem keeping up, but I can imagine readers less familiar with Regency romances would find this book a bit of a slog. There also are some sections where MacKeever gets really wordy, and I tended to skim over those bits without coming to harm or confusion. I also read over several days, with some gaps in between, but only had to go back once, so found this easy to pick up and put down (although the last 100+ pages I stayed up until late finishing because it was so entertaining).
There are also some cameos from exalted heights like the Prince, which add an additional layer of complexity (and I think interest for those well-versed in the genre). I found the historical details fascinating and well researched, and loved the little throw away additions (like a local street hawker who had fought in wars while disguised as a man). I also enjoyed the setting in Brighton, which still allowed for some social settings but mostly occurred in the parlor rooms and dinner services.
This is a kisses only book, with some episodes of violence and lots of hints and innuendo (and maybe a pointed remark or two) about mistresses, affairs, and sex out-of-wedlock, so probably most appropriate for mature readers who like kisses only but don’t mind a bit of mature subject material.
I found many of the situations and scenes to be funny, if not laugh out loud then definitely amusing. I definitely would re-read in the future, and look forward to checking out more for MacKeever. I would recommend this for Regency devotees looking to explore a new traditional author.
4.5 out of 6 A complicated comedy of criss-crossed lovers