Emily and the Dark Angel
Comfort reads occupy an unusually clear-cut place on a reading shelf. These are the books of unconditional love. They may or may not be the best romances ever written, and I can count several comfort reads that do not qualify as such. But every year, or even more often, I go back to them for the comfort and pleasure of their company. Emily and the Dark Angel is such a book for me.
We open in Melton Mowbray just before the hunting season begins, and Emily Grantwich is under considerable pressure. She’s a spinster. She’s running the family estate. Her father is a crotchety chauvinistic invalid who moans and groans a lot (particularly about her being an estate-running spinster), and her brother is missing in action. With all that and more on her plate, what she really doesn’t need is a rake wreaking havoc around town – and dusting her with Poudre de Violettes.
Strictly speaking, it wasn’t Piers Verderan who flung the powder, but his latest mistress-hopeful. He is in Melton not only for the hunt, but because he recently inherited the land adjoining the Grantwich estate. Now, normally he would never cast a second look at a plain country spinster, but there’s just something about Emily that he can’t resist. And once he decides to have her, he goes into full throttle.
This – the rake and spirited spinster story – draws me back every single time, despite my constant and consistent criticisms. Piers’ interest in Emily jumps precipitately to thoughts of marriage. Some small but puzzling developments eventually go nowhere. Characters are overpopulated and underused. And yet the story is so lively, so witty and farcical without going overboard, and so darn enjoyable, that I acknowledge the road bumps and just move on. I read Emily and Piers’ story with fond affection, and feel hugely satisfied that the plain girl gets the tortured rake.
The other attraction is the setting. Ms. Beverley takes full advantage of one of Regency England’s premier hunts, and Melton is described in all its glory. There are historical and fictional characters, hunting customs, and jockeys. Melton Mowbray makes a lovely departure from the cookie-cutter country setting, and is one of the book’s greatest assets.
I wouldn’t take Emily and the Dark Angel onto a desert island, because of the abovementioned issues, but I’d love to have it on standby or something. Ms. Beverley’s classic Regency always makes me happy, and I’m very glad to see it back in print.