Best Laid Schemes
Best Laid Schemes has everything you’d expect in a Regency. There are interesting characters, witty dialogue, and a fun house-party setting. It also has some things you wouldn’t necessarily expect, like a mischievous (and incontinent) monkey. It’s not a book that will change the world, but it’s a good, light read.
Tarquin Rome, the Earl of Hythe, has decided that the time has come to marry and secure the succession of his title. In his controlling, orderly fashion, he decides to host a series of house parties with carefully chosen young women and their parents as his guests. From these choices he expects to find a suitable wife. The three most promising women are saved for the last house party. They are all Incomparables: accomplished, beautiful, and practically perfect. But Tarquin’s whimsical mother has other plans; she invites her friend Lady Leverham and her niece Sibyl Cameron.
Sibyl has had a crush on Tarquin since girlhood, but every attempt to secure his notice has ended in disaster, resulting in injury to Tarquin or the priceless objects in his home. But Sibyl has grown up. She’s beautiful and smart, and no longer terribly accident prone. She shares Tarquin’s passion for old books, and can name the source of all his priceless artifacts. In Tarquin’s mind, however, she is still the clumsy child. At first he blames her for every mishap, even though they are not her fault.
As the party progresses, everyone seems to realize that the three Incomparables are far from perfect. One is stupid, one is flighty and terrified of the outdoors, and one is just blasé. Still Tarquin persists in giving each of them a fair shot during his two-week party. Will he finally notice Sibyl? Of course, but not until the bitter end.
Tarquin and Sibyl are both great characters. Sibyl is endearing with her brains and apparently hopeless crush. Tarquin is amusing as his infamous control and propriety gradually slip over the course of the two weeks. There is a strong cast of secondary characters to back them up. Lady Leverham and her monkey Galahad are responsible for most of the mishaps, and there are several laugh-out-loud moments. Tarquin’s younger brother and best friend are also in attendance, and they add to the fun.
One expects Regencies to be full of amusing dialogue, and Best Laid Schemes doesn’t disappoint. Some of the best lines are said by the would-be countesses; the stupid one is particularly funny. As the book progresses, the verbal exchanges between Tarquin and Sybil become increasingly helpful and intimate. It is fun to watch the progression.
The weakness in the book comes from the sheer number of characters. There are so many of them that it is difficult to keep them all straight. I had to think to remember which Incomparable was which, and (oddly enough) to distinguish the best friend from the butler. Still, the large cast of characters adds to the plot and is not really too distracting.
This is not a deep book, or a long book, or a sexy one. In fact, Sibyl and Tarquin share only a couple of kisses. But it sets out to be a light read, a comedy of manners. In this it succeeds very well.