It’s always wise to be a bit leery when a reviewer compares an author to Georgette Heyer. After all, that particular lady created an entire genre of writing, and her imitators range from the sublime to the ridiculous. But when someone mentions Clare Darcy and Heyer in the same breath, it is for all the right reasons. Allegra is a delightful, occasionally serious romantic romp with a captivating heroine and a satisfyingly romantic hero. And like Heyer, Darcy embeds plenty of history into her story’s backdrop, so it’s not just floating on an amorphous O’Regency era cloud.
Allegra Herington is twenty-five years old, firmly on the shelf, and happy to be so. She had one Season where she became engaged to a soldier who was, unfortunately, promptly killed. Although she has long ceased pining for him, she has not yet accepted any offers of marriage.
Recently orphaned, Allegra is living with one grumpy aunt while her sister Hilary resides with another. Both adore their Grandmother, a poor relation living with yet another relative, who, unfortunately, cannot have the girls live with her. What she can do, however, is speak to the man who inherited the title and lands of Allegra’s father about marriage to her granddaughter.
Sir Derek Herington is that man. He agrees that it makes good sense for the two to marry since it will enable Allegra to return to her home and, at the same time, allow the Herington name to continue. Even though the first meeting between the former diplomat and our heroine goes badly, the second is happy enough that Allegra considers saying “yes” to his proposal. Still, Derek is so gorgeous and charming that Allegra is daunted by the prospect of being married to him.
By the next day when the proposal actually occurs, however, village gossip gets in the way. Because Allegra is now prejudiced against him, the two part stormily. Allegra immediately hauls herself and her sister to Brussels so that can begin teaching children at her old governess’s establishment. Once there, she and the governess decide to launch Hilary into society rather than condemning her to the single life Allegra has chosen.
Sir Derek soon arrives in Brussels as well, and agrees, or rather insists on, helping the sisters with their societal launch. Sir Derek and Allegra get on no better than before, and their conversations end in arguments every time they meet. Each time, however, Allegra becomes more and more aware of what she so hastily threw away when she rebuffed his proposal. Her romantic future is bleak, until the fates – in the form of her sister Hilary – decide to step in.
The growing relationship between Allegra and Sir Derek is excellently detailed, with each one continually reacting to a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of words and events, just as in real life, without a cataclysmic misunderstanding that could have been solved with one conversation. Darcy’s writing is lively and almost bounces off the page, and her heroine experiences a range and depth of emotions most readers have experienced: insecurity, fierce protectiveness, pride and, yes, prejudice. Allegra’s gratitude towards Sir Derek for his actions and, at the same time, her irritation at the way he performs them is the battle she fights in the course of falling in love.
The sections dealing with Allegra’s state of mind, namely, her lack of self-confidence warring with her stubborn, proud nature, are among the most real and well-written in the book. Allegra shares a quick, lively wit with Sir Derek, as well as a natural hauteur that others think is snobbishness, but in Allegra’s case merely masks a shy nature.
Sir Derek’s inner nature and thoughts are an enigma to the reader, but he, too, appears as a flawed, yet noble, character who has quick, incisive reactions, stubborn pride, loyalty, and arrogance. He is also reasonable, charming, intelligent, and while a superlative dresser whose clothes clearly matter to him, he could never be called a dandy.
Allegra’s sister Hilary is an interesting character whose secondary romance would have made an enjoyable book in its own right. She is confident, fearless, sprightly, and adventurous. Like Allegra, she chafes against certain conventions, but unlike her older, more bruised sister, she is not daunted by anything.
One of the few complaints that could be lodged against Darcy is her strict adherence to the Heyer formula, but she does it so well it is a hollow criticism. All in all, Allegra is a joyful, informative and classic Regency read.