Back in the day, historical romance fans new Christmas was around the corner when Signet published its annual anthology of Christmas stories by some of its most popular and most beloved authors. Those original books are long since out of print – although second-hand copies can still be found – but some of the authors (or their estates) are now making their stories available in digital formats. Edith Layton’s daughter has been republishing her mother’s novels and short stories over the past few years, and follows up last year’s six-story anthology It’s a Wonderful Regency Christmas with An Enchanting Regency Christmas, which brings together another four previously published Christmas stories.
The Earl’s Nightingale
(originally published in A Regency Christmas Carol, 1997)
A charming story with just a little bit of Christmas magic, The Earl’s Nightingale is about finding happlness where you least expect it. Eliza Dumont, a gently-born young woman who supports herself and her mother by giving music lessons, needs to raise some money urgently and has no alternative but to pawn the gift left her by her late grandmother, a bejewelled, mechanical bird in a golden cage. It breaks her heart to do so; it’s the last thing her grandmother gave her, and with it, the old lady left a letter telling her that the bird will bring her happiness.
Frauncis, the Earl of Elliott, is looking for a gift to give a respectable young lady for Christmas. He knows the lady in question is expecting a betrothal ring, but he is not about to meet those expectations; still, he needs to send something appropriate. When he sees the mechanical bird in the corner of the shop, he realises he’s found the perfect gift, and sends it to the young lady – who is so angry at not receiving the gift she’d hoped for that she throws the cage across the room and gives it to her servant. Who sells it on…
When Eliza returns to retrieve the bird, she’s devastated to discover it’s been sold. She pays a visit to the Earl to offer to buy it back, and he, of course is unable to oblige. But he’s instantly smitten with Eliza and promises to retrieve it for her – except, as he discovers, it’s not that simple. Over the next few days, he and Eliza track down the bird, and as they do, they draw closer and eventually, Eliza discovers that the bird has bought her happiness after all.
The Hounds of Heaven
(originally published in A Regency Christmas, 1998)
This story isn’t so much a romance as it is the story of a man taking stock of himself and his life and opening himself up to what it means to be worthy – and capable – of love.
Wealthy, charming, titled and handsome, Lord Thadeus Rose, London’s most eligible bachelor., has decided it’s time to marry and has chosen himself a suitable bride. Miss Helena Thatcher is beautiful, intelligent, sensible and well-bred, young enough to bear children but not an empty-headed schoolroom chit who will bore him silly. So when he proposes to her, he’s stunned by her rejection, and doesn’t understand the reasons behind it
Stumbling home after drowning his sorrows, Thadeus is set upon by footpads – but is saved by a puppy (a large puppy, admittedly) who subsequently ‘adopts’ him and refuses to leave his side. As Thadeus learns how to care for something other than himself, and as the dog’s unconditional love begins to show him how wonderful it feels to be loved, he comes to appreciate and understand the importance of the most human of emotions, and to know what he needs to do in order to win the heart of his lady.
The Rake’s Christmas
(originally published in A Regency Christmas, 1995)
I love a good poor-relation-gets-the-guy tale, and this is definitely a good one. It’s my favourite story in this collection, and in it we meet, Ian, Viscount Hunt, a young man lately returned from the Peninsula war who has thrown himself into a life of hedonistic pleasures as a way of distracting him from sad memories. He is approached by Lord Shelton, an older man and a confirmed rake and invited to attend a house-party over the Christmas season at Moon Manor, the home of a distant relative of his. Ian is a little wary – he doesn’t know Shelton other than by reputation – but allows himself to be persuaded. On the way, Shelton is called away owing to an emergency, leaving Ian to attend the party without him.
Eve Thomkins is the poor relation, taken in for Christmas by her aunt and uncle but already looking forward to getting away from their forced and somewhat humiliating generosity, and to her upcoming twenty-fifth birthday, after which she need never spend Christmas with them again. When Viscount Hunt arrives, the sense of kinship feels as their eyes meet for the first time startles her, making her wish, just once, that she could be even vaguely eligible, as the other young ladies are.
Hunt’s broodingly handsome looks naturally gain him the attention of all the young ladies at the party, although his somewhat intimidating manner cows most of them – apart from Eve with whom he occasionally lets his guard down. Over the days that follow, he finds himself seeking Eve out – telling himself that what he really wants to do is warn her of Lord Shelton’s designs on her – but instead just enjoying her company and conversation. And Eve, who is preparing to take up the mantle of ‘eternal spinster’ is determined to enjoy this last hurrah of time spent with an attractive man.
Eve and Ian are likeable and fully-fleshed out in a way that doesn’t always happen in novellas, and this story is the most ‘Christmassy’ in overall feel, incorporating many of the traditions of the festival, with its mistletoe and holly-gathering parties, yule log hunt, wassail and carolling. The author packs a lot of emotional punch into this one, and the ending, while not exactly a surprise, nonetheless left me smiling.
The Dark Man
(originally published in A Regency Christmas III, 1991)
This is the story I liked least out of the set; it’s about an engaged couple who fall out and get back together again, but it isn’t particularly romantic. Like The Hounds of Heaven, it focuses more on the hero’s journey to self-awareness, but it isn’t anywhere near as charming as that story.
When Eve Swanson discovers that her fiancé, the Earl of Poole, has a mistress (as well as a bevy of former mistresses amongst the ton) she knows all too well that it’s ‘the done thing’ among men of their class, but finds it difficult to handle the normality of it – especially the idea of coming face-to-face with his former lovers and being expected to behave as though it’s nothing. When she breaks their engagement, she’s sent off in disgrace to stay with her grandmother in the north of England, while Poole kicks his heels in London and comes to the realisation that what Eve had said about his always following the rules and expectations was true and that he needs to be true to himself if he’s to attain his heart’s desire and win her back.
This tale focuses a little more on New Year and its traditions than on Christmas, and that’s all nicely done, but the story feels rushed and the end of it is a bit nonsensical.
As I usually find to be the case with anthologies, An Enchanting Regency Christmas is a bit of a mixed bag. But overall, it’s an enjoyable collection that is sure to provide plenty of warm fuzzies and feelings of good cheer over the festive season.
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