A Grand Design
Personally I’m not a big fan of Regencies. I prefer historicals because I like lots of action, but there is something to be said for subtle and consistent. Not to mention refreshing, enjoyable, and lively. All those words describe Emma Jensen’s latest novel, A Grand Design.
The Marquess of Tregaron has returned to London after a lengthy self-imposed exile on his Welsh estates. Tregaron has come to the conclusion it is time to take a bride and produce an heir. The only problem is he left London in such a rush eight years earlier that his town house is in ruins due to lack of care. He hires Buchanan and Buchanan, a couple of Scottish architects, to fix up the place. He gets more than he bargained for in the form of the Buchannans’ niece, Cate.
Cate is trying to keep the family secret that she is Buchanan and Buchanan, as her artistic uncles would rather be in the pub than redesigning houses. It doesn’t help her secret that Tregaron, who promised to stay away through the construction, keeps popping up at every turn to see how things are going. Not only does he appear at the house, but also he shows up at all the social functions that Cate is dragged to by her frivolous sister. Within a short time Tregaron and Cate start looking for each other, as annoyance turns to attraction and attraction to love.
Tregaron and Cate are true equals, although not financially so or by status of birth. But they are both practical people, grounded and sensible. They each have a dry sarcastic sense of humor and are tolerant and kind to those around them. They are both also very lonely people. Tregaron’s exile from society was prompted by the failure of his first marriage and rumors that he murdered his wife. Few people look beyond his cold and austere appearance to see the man beneath. Instead he is accepted solely for the size of his fortune. Cate can identify. She may not be an outcast, but that’s only because society does not take notice of her. A 26-year-old Scottish spinster with ginger colored hair who stands as tall as most men, Cate is amazingly able to stand in a room full of people and not be seen. Cate can’t even have her reputation ruined by gossips who can only describe her as “tall and blowsy,” because they don’t have a clue as to her name.
It’s a joy watching these two souls come together and fall in love before either knows what’s happening. They banter and quarrel, but at they also listen to one another and pay attention to one another, avoiding the dreaded big misunderstanding (though there are plenty of little ones to keep them on their toes).
What completes Tregaron and Cate’s story is the surrounding characters. Ambrose and Angus Buchanan, Cate’s uncles, are lovable and absent-minded artists. They have their orphaned niece’s best interests at heart, but the call of pub or art studio has always been too strong to resist. Cate’s sister Lucy is not quite so lovable. She ignores her status in society and dreams of marrying a peer of the realm. Her quest for an entrée into society is helped along by Lady Leverham, an acquaintance from Scotland, who has a fondness for all things medieval and a pet monkey. (Lady Leverham is one of a number of characters from Jensen’s previous novel, Best Laid Schemes.) Tregaron gets advice from his grandmother, a five-foot tall spitfire who forces him into the social whirl by making him escort her, and a cockney lad who keeps popping up with a bit of advice in exchange for a shilling. Rounding out the cast of characters is Tregaron’s Welsh Corgi Gryffydd, who even lacking lines had a great deal of personality.
I heartily recommend this story to anyone who wants a delightfully pleasant, consistent read from cover to cover, which is based on character interaction and not some big outside force or catastrophe. Ms. Jensen, with her subtle humor and undeviating characterization, is a jewel of a find, and I look forward to her next book.