Chasing Lady Amelia
Maya Rodale is one of the authors I turn to when I want brain candy; a well-written, frothy, light-hearted read that doesn’t get too bogged down in angst, has a fair bit of humour and attractive characters. And she certainly delivers all that in Chasing Lady Amelia the second book in her Keeping Up With the Cavendishes series, featuring four American siblings who are thrust into the midst of English society when James Cavendish unexpectedly inherits a dukedom.
James has three sisters; bespectacled Claire, who is something of a bluestocking, Bridget, whose story is told in the previous book, Lady Bridget’s Diary, and who is very, very keen to become a proper English Lady – and Amelia. Who isn’t. In fact, Amelia has no patience whatsoever with the restrictive mores of English society or with the equally restrictive clothing she is forced to wear. I admit here to heaving a big sigh at the prospect of reading about yet another stereotypically “fresh” American heroine who is so much more lively and independent of mind and spirit than her stodgy, stuck-up English counterparts.
Fortunately, Ms. Rodale is a good enough writer to be able to make Amelia a more engaging character than she probably sounds from that description, but she still displays a degree of immaturity that is annoying rather than endearing. Such as when, in the middle of a ball, she decides her shoes are pinching her feet so much that she must, she absolutely MUST take them off right this minute. So she does. And sticks them in a plant pot. But that is just the start of her troubles, because the moment she’s divested herself of her shoes, she is invited to dance. Of course a young lady with no shoes on is nothing short of scandalous, so to avoid revealing it, she fakes a faint, which ends up having a domino effect involving her prospective dance partner, a buxom countess, a footman and a tray of champagne.
Shortly after this, enter our hero, one Alastair Finlay-Jones, despised nephew of and heir to Baron Wrotham. Alastair is Anglo-Indian, something which is mentioned but is never explored and seems to have no real purpose other than to show that, like Amelia, he can only ever exist on the fringes of good society – and has recently returned to England following an absence of almost six-and-a-half-years. Summoned by his uncle, he is told in no uncertain terms to marry one of the newly arrived American heiresses. Alastair, who has no other family and longs for his uncle’s approval, finds it difficult to say no because of the guilt he still feels over the death of his cousin – so he doesn’t, well, say no.
As luck would have it, one of those very heiresses has – almost literally – fallen into Alastair’s lap. While wending his way home from an evening at his club the night before, he was accosted by a young lady who seemed to be somewhat the worse for wear. As she was unable to tell him where she lived, Alastair took her to his flat after she passed out, and it’s only after he sees the scandal sheets the next morning that he realises who the lady is. Things could be worse; she’s pretty, she’s young and she’s got a hefty dowry, but Alastair knows a man of little fortune or reputation such as he isn’t going to stand a chance with her once he is just one of a crowd of men seeking her hand. But if he doesn’t let on that he knows who she is, maybe he will have the chance to gain the advantage; if they can spend some time together then when she meets him again in a ballroom, she will recognise him and, hopefully, they will have some happy, shared memories that will single him out from everyone else.
The first half of the story takes place over roughly a twelve-hour period as Amelia and Alastair embark on a once-in-a-lifetime day out, which reminded me somewhat of the plot of Roman Holiday (even down to the scandalous hair cut!), in which Audrey Hepburn’s princess spends a day out-of-time with handsome reporter, Gregory Peck. Ms. Rodale writes the evolving relationship between her protagonists very convincingly so that, in spite of the short time-frame, the romance doesn’t feel rushed, although I did have to give a sideways glance to the fact that things turn physical shortly before they part. I know Amelia is supposed to be free-spirited and reckless, but one would have thought, given her brother is a horse-breeder and she’s grown up around animals, she’s have given a thought to possible consequences.
Anyway, following that magical day, things start to fall apart. Realising that Alastair had known who she was all along, Amelia feels hurt and betrayed and wants nothing to do with him. Thus, it’s down to our hero to do a bit of grovelling and to prove to Amelia that in spite of the lie, he’s true of heart and that he has no intention of compromising her into marriage. And then his brain thinks dumb things in a last minute attempt to inject some unnecessary angst and I could have smacked him.
Apart from that, Alastair is the best thing about the book. He’s funny, charming and self-deprecating; his guilt at having caused his cousin’s death (which he didn’t, really) is perhaps rather overdone though, and his last minute volte-face really is a switch too far. He’s said to be a reprobate, although I saw nothing in him that one doesn’t find in all of the young gentleman heroes in historical romances; he’s not averse to the odd wager or card game, likes women and enjoys a drink with his mates – all things which usually earn back-slaps, not censure!
Amelia becomes more likeable as the book progresses, but although I did understand her desire to get out from under the weight of expectation, she never really rises above your stock-in-trade rebellious heroine. Perhaps “it’s not you, it’s me”; she’s not an unattractive character, but she never really took on a life of her own in my imagination and wasn’t someone I found myself wanting to know more about or spend time with.
Chasing Lady Amelia is, as I said at the outset, exactly the sort of book I expect from this author, and it’s the type of thing she does very, very well. I’m sure it will prove too insubstantial for some tastes and there’s no doubt that she once again plays fast and loose with historical accuracy and social convention; but fans of hers are sure to enjoy it and it’s certainly worth consideration by anyone who is in the mood for an angst-free (mostly) piece of well-written fluff.