Saturday, February 25, 2012

New Review: Eileen Dreyer’s BARELY A LADY - Well Written Regency Romance With Issues

This is a first in the Dreyer’s Rake Series (Barely A Lady, Never A Gentleman and Always A Temptress), and the author's first Regency romance. Dreyer writes very well and the language, descriptions and characters are true to the time period. A lot of research went into this one. For that she gets full marks. The story is set in an interesting time in history, has a good plot, a fair amount of suspense, great villains, and interesting and varied members of the ton for amusement. However there are issues that detract from what could have been a five star romance.

The story is set in 1815 in Belgium and England and begins on the eve of Waterloo with the hero, Jack Wyndham (who we later learn is the Earl of Gracechurch), facing battle as an officer on a mission. But why is he being addressed in French? We don't know. The heroine, Olivia Grace, is a fallen woman--Jack's disgraced ex-wife, who is working as a governess for a shrew of a woman just to make ends meet. While helping the wounded after the battle and searching the battlefield for a young woman's father, Olivia finds Jack lying wounded and dressed in a French officer's uniform. He treated her so badly she is tempted to leave him there but instead, she brings him back to the home of her new friend, the beautiful Dowager Duchess of Murther, Lady Kate. Jack wakes with amnesia--and thinks it's five years earlier and he is still married to Olivia. When the doctors tell them they must not tell Jack the truth or it may kill him, Olivia agrees to resume the role of loving wife. In fact, she does love the man who wronged her and threw her out of his home when she was pregnant and without a penny choosing to believe the lie that she was unfaithful to him, gambled and so on.

A fair number of secrets are withheld from the reader and some of the negatives relate to when and how those are revealed. (The "tell all" at the end is a bit overwhelming.) I found some of the characters' angst a bit repetitive. But the major issue relates to the hero and heroine. In many romances the hero is a cad at the beginning and then gradually realizes what a gem the heroine is and finally falls in love with her. I'm ok with that as long as his "conversion" is believable. In this one, however, Jack is a cad until the end (really a jerk in many places) and that didn't sit real well. When he does come around and realizes he loves her and always did, it is so dramatic it rings a bit false, particularly since he recalls at one point that it ("it" is not explained) was better with his mistress than with Olivia, his wife. (I really could not figure out why the author felt the need to put that in; wasn't it bad enough he had a mistress and didn't pine for Olivia?) The heroine is pretty much a saint. Even when she gets angry she never really loses her temper and in the end she forgives the bastard an awful lot.

Notwithstanding the negatives, the story held my attention, was well written and was correct in so many ways (history, language, customs, accents, etc.) it deserves a read. In other words, I can recommend it.

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