I have read several pleasant historical romances this year, but none that gave me that hard-to-describe-but-I-know-it-when-I-feel-it reading rush. A few days ago, I reached into the TBR pile and picked up Jo Beverley’s Hazard and began to read. It didn’t take long for the rush to begin. I was delighted and filled with a sense of wonder. This is why I love historical romances.
Lady Anne Peckworth is the daughter of the Duke of Arran. She is attractive, intelligent and accomplished. She is also unmarried, having been passed over by the Viscount Middleton, and the Earl of Wyvern. Anne is not unhappy though; she is quite comfortable with herself despite her crippled foot, but realizes that she faces life as poor Aunt Anne in one of her relative’s homes unless she marries. Also, her younger sister wants to marry and can’t until Anne does.
While Anne is at her sister Frances’s home she meets her Racecombe de Vere, secretary to her brother, Lord Uffham. The attraction between them is instant and Anne feels it deeply. But she is the daughter of a duke, and Race is not her equal. To say more would be a spoiler, but Race is one of the most interesting characters I have read about this year.
There are two aspects of Hazard I found enchanting. First, the characters – not only are they real, they are realistic for their times. I have read so many historical novels with characters who are about as authentic as Britney Spears in a bustle, or Tobey Maguire in knee breeches. Not the characters in Hazard. They are of their time and act it. For example: When Anne’s sister Frances goes into labor, her husband (who loves her dearly) does not do the modern thing and gallantly support his wife in the labor room. Instead, he and his men friends pass the time in the library gambling and drinking. When it is time for the proud Papa to see his child, he has to be sobered up. Frances is not a bit angry, that is how gentlemen act. When Anne’s brother passes out from drinking, she knows he would be warmer and more comfortable in a bed so she gets the servants up and makes them put him in his room. There is no 21st century angst over the servant’s inconvenience, that is their job.
The other aspect of Hazard that makes it extraordinary is the sexual tension between Race and Anne. It is masterfully handled. Anne’s sisters have married for love and they have told her that when they met their husbands, they knew. It is not something that can easily be put into words, but when Anne and Race meet – they know. They are aware of each other with every single one of their senses and Jo Beverley makes us, the readers aware too.
I have to mention one scene in particular as an example of how a writer who is a mistress of her craft handles sexual tension. Anne has planned an evening at the theatre as part of her return to Society. She is in her box with friends when she realizes that Race de Vere is in the audience. The emotions that the characters in the play are feeling are very close to what Anne is feeling for Race, and she wonders if he feels it too. All the while the actors are performing, Anne tries to concentrate on the play, but she is aware of Race and his presence. Even when she tries not to think of him, some word, or action or look brings Anne’s thoughts back to Race. As soon as I finished that section, I flipped back and read it again, marveling at Jo Beverley’s skill in conveying sexual tension. An added bonus was that I felt like I had been in a theatre in Regency times. I could almost smell the oranges and the audience and hear the actors deliver their lines.
The odds are that I will read more than one mundane, anachronistic or badly written historical novel before this year is up. When that happens, I think I will take Hazard off the shelf and re-read some of it just to see how excellent an historical romance can be in the hands of someone who knows, loves, and respects the genre. Historical romances don’t get much better than this.