Breaking the Rules
Breaking the Rules is a different sort of Regency Romance. It is set in a small village and is mostly a fantasy in which the main characters find themselves recreating the lives of the characters in The Dream of Macsen Wledig, a Celtic manuscript which the heroine in translating. Even though this is not a totally successful novel, it is different and interesting, a nice change from the usual regency romp.
Ursula Elcester is the beautiful and scholarly daughter of Thomas Elcester, an antiquarian who owns the village along with the surrounding mills. Mr. Elcester has lost a lot of money to a sharpster who sold him some bogus emerald mines, so in order to save the fortunes of the village and her father, Ursula is betrothed to Theodore Glendower, nephew and heir of Lord Carmartin, who has feuded with the Elcester family for years. When Ursula marries Theodore, her father will receive a settlement that will allow him to live comfortably and the Elcester holdings will become Theodore’s upon the death of Mr. Elcester. Ursula has never seen Theodore, and doesn’t want to marry anyway – she is deep into translating Celtic texts and wandering the mysterious forest near her home.
In that forest, Ursula sees strange sights that revolve around the innkeeper Bellamy Taynton, whom she dislikes. Bellamy has a strange hold over the blacksmith’s daughter who calls him her Master and he keeps an odd looking squirrel in a cage. This squirrel has a white body, red head and green eyes, and Ursula can’t help but think it is connected to Lord Carmartin’s missing ward Eleanor – a fair red-haired girl who has disappeared.
When Theodore comes into Elcester to finalize the marriage plans, he brings with him his good friend, Sir Conan Merrydown. When Conan and Ursula meet, they recognize each other for they have each “seen” the other in dreams and visions. Theodore also has “seen” a beautiful red-haired girl with green eyes whom he has fallen in love with. As the story unfolds, Ursula translates the manuscript, the pieces of the puzzle fall into place, the modern characters reenact the old story and this time the ending is a happy one.
Breaking the Rules is a fairly good fantasy. The plot of modern people reenacting the past, was used in the dark fantasy Owl Service by Alan Garner. This novel is much lighter and despite all the Druidical goings on, I never felt that any of the characters were in much danger. Still, the atmosphere is well done and certain motifs such as troups of squirrels and the scent of bluebells are used to good effect.
The characters themselves are fine, but lacking in passion and connectivity. Conan and Ursula recognize each other as soulmates immediately and they share some long kisses and deep embraces, but I didn’t sense a lot of connection between them. As for Theo and Eleanor, she spends most of the book as a disembodied wraith, so there’s not a lot of connection there either.
If you are fond of Regency Romances with fantasy elements, Karen Harbaugh does the best job of combining the two in her Cupid trilogy and in The Vampire Viscount. Breaking the Rules doesn’t succeed in blending the two elements successfully, and is a better fantasy novel than it is a Regency Romance. Still, thanks to Sandra Heath for trying to create something out of the ordinary.