Madeline Hunter introduces us to unique characters and a fun plot with this Regency Historical Romance. Miss Celia Pennifold is the daughter of famed courtesan Alessandra Northrope. Her mother, hoping to provide Celia with a future of riches and luxury, tutored her throughout her young life on how to be the best courtesan in London. Unfortunately for Alessandra, Celia ran away at 17, ready to make a different life for herself. Now, several years later, Celia has come back to London to settle her mother’s piddling, debt-ridden estate and attend the funeral when she discovers that – along with inheriting a house – she’s inherited a tenant, Mr. Jonathan Albrighton. Jonathan has his own reasons for staying at the house – he’s looking into Alessandra’s past.
Celia is such a beautiful character (though not always realistic, given how incredibly selfless she was at times). Hunter does a good job setting up her backstory so that we can understand her hopelessness, her pragmatic nature, and yet also her passion. Unlike many romance heroines, Celia is definitely not rash in her decision making; she is mature and thoughtful where other heroines are spontaneous and sometimes grossly ignorant. Her character was consistent with her backstory; she is an admirable, fierce, and intelligent heroine. She commands the novel, and Jonathan, with her presence.
Jonathan avoids the trap that many Regency heroes fall into (given the nature of marital relations during this time period), in that he avoids being demanding and controlling. He was careful with the level of their intimacy, and avoided being overbearing or asking for more than it was clear Celia wanted to give. Another positive – he didn’t make a huge deal about Celia’s virginity. He was understanding, a guiding force and support system for her in times of trouble. I liked how guarded he was about his job but how open he could be with her about his feelings. For readers that look for regency novels that edge away from stereotypical gender norms, Hunter seems to have that goal in mind as she writes this book.
The plot that revolved around Jonathan and his heritage, and to a lesser extent Celia and her heritage, was intriguing but didn’t detract from the main romance. It lent an air of mystery to the piece, kept the story going, and gave the character’s purpose while they went about their daily lives. The secondary characters – Castleford, Daphne, Hawkeswell, Marian, etc. – were all amusing and they intruded often enough to remind us that there was a world outside our main characters, but not so often as to be constantly interrupting the romantic tension. Each of them is humorous and delightful and each has their own voice: if you gave me a line from the story I could tell you who said it from the tone and syntax alone. Readers who enjoy a light afternoon of refreshing regency romance will find Madeline Hunter’s book a must-read.
Reviewed by: Meghan Barrett