An Uncommon Courtship
Many historical romances feature a secondary female character whose main purpose is to make the heroine look good. She’s rude and whiny, has no self-control and less empathy, and spends most of her time in a snit. Now, in An Uncommon Courtship, one such brat stars in her very own book. Although there’s the occasional wry flash of humor pepping things up, I just couldn’t get past the annoying heroine or the overwrought prose style to enjoy this book.
Eloise Kendall has repeatedly crossed paths with Gregory Ward since she was six and he was twelve. As she furiously relates to her aunt, he accidentally knocked her into a pond and ruined her party dress, and then he saved her from drowning. The nerve. Years later he accidentally tore her dress at a dance. And four years after that, when she snubbed him at Almack’s for these accumulated grievances, she was publicly censured for her behavior towards a war hero, ruining her debut. That none of these things were Gregory’s fault never seems to cross Eloise’s mind; she’s got a grudge to span a lifetime. Now Gregory has come to her village campaigning to be a Member of Parliament, and he soon crosses paths with Eloise and finds her as charming as he did back when she was six and kicked him in the shins. Gregory is pleasant enough, but never struck me as terribly bright, especially given his attraction to Eloise.
Gregory and Eloise cross paths several more times in the village, and nearly every encounter ends with Eloise in a huff. She’s spectacularly rude, with a completely unfounded sense of her own superiority. Eloise is raising funds to start a school for the village children, and with some misgivings she accepts a large bribe from an interfering mother to introduce her daughter to Gregory. You know and I know that if there’s one thing that Regency heroes are good at, it’s avoiding the snares of manipulating mamas, but Eloise takes on as if the introduction will lead directly to the reading of the banns.
Eventually some shifty characters show up and kidnap Eloise’s young brother, mistaking him for his wealthy best friend. Gregory, of course, is on hand to save the day, but Eloise almost seems to begrudge him even that.
I suspect that the idea was that Eloise would begin as a difficult character with some nice points, and gradually reform a bit while maintaining her internal spark. However, for me Eloise was the equivalent of the super-alpha hero who wrongs the heroine and doesn’t grovel adequately for it. She had simply behaved too badly for me to forgive her. There is a secondary romance between two modest, well-behaved characters that mostly acted in counterpoint with Eloise and Gregory, and I appreciated the contrast.
The other thing that pulled me out of the story was the prose style. At first it seemed as though every sentence that didn’t contain two commas contained three, or four. Characters are long-winded and tell each other obvious things they must already know about their times, just in case we readers don’t. It’s supposed to be charming, but I found it aggravating and often redundant. If the style doesn’t bother you, you may like the book more than I did. In any event, the style tightens up a bit as the book goes on, and gets down to two or three clauses to a sentence instead of four or five.
I did appreciate some of the more unusual Regency settings the book offered, most notably a cave expedition just as people were first becoming fascinated by dinosaurs. And there were moments of wry observation that I enjoyed, and would have appreciated more humor throughout.
It’s not impossible for an irritating snob to become a real heroine; Jane Austen’s Emma follows a somewhat similar arc. The difference is that despite Emma’s quirks, her good intentions and finer qualities are always apparent. To the very end, Eloise’s brattiness is her prevailing trait. While there was clearly an attempt to reform Eloise, it never convinced me. I simply couldn’t like her; I suspect Miss Manners would agree.