Lady Emma's Dilemma
Lady Emma’s Dilemma is what I think of as a “quiet” Regency. It’s not one of those whippet-quick tours of the ton with brisk, snappy dialogue, and neither is it a comedy of manners or pseudo-romantic suspense. Instead, it’s a quiet story about two people who get a second chance at love, and about the misunderstanding that made them miss out on it in the first place.
Emmaline Fallbrook is returning to London after a lengthy absence, an absence marked by her marriage, subsequent widowhood, and steadfast pursuit of good deeds. Her friends have long begged her return; they assure her that she is too young and beautiful to molder out in the country. Some part of Emmaline thinks they might be right, but she has no idea of marrying again. Instead, she toys with the idea of taking a lover.
The one man Emmaline hopes not to see is Jack Devruex. When she was a young girl, she fell quickly and madly in love with him, and was on the verge of eloping when things went badly. In her disappointment, she turned to the older man her parents had wanted her to marry, and their subsequent union was very unhappy. Even though she’s grown and changed since then, she’s not quite ready to face the man she once loved.
Jack, on the other hand, can’t seem to stay away from Emmaline, even though he perceives the wrong as being squarely on her side. She was, after all, the one who married so soon after their failed elopement. Before Jack knows it, he is feeling the same fascination (and frankly, lust) that he always had for Emmaline. He can scarcely keep his mind – or hands – off her. But Emmaline resists the idea of any relationship. She is reluctant to risk her heart and terrified to give up any amount of the control she has over her own life. But when she hears news of an intrigue involving one of Jack’s prized thoroughbreds, she discovers that she just may be able to open her heart after all.
There were several things I liked about this book. The first is that it felt right. The language has a better period feel than that of most trads of late. The characters act in a proper manner, and their feelings and sentiments ring true for the time. This is most in evidence when they discuss the misunderstanding that led to their initial parting. It isn’t the typical, grating Big Mis that you usually see. It’s subtler. Woodward makes you see how two people could easily interpret the same series of events in a different way. It’s the type of thing that likely happened all the time then, and still happens now, which makes it completely believable.
The characters are also very likable, particularly if you like restrained (rather than hoydenish) heroines. Emmaline is beautiful, but shies away from the spotlight. She surprises herself by losing her cool and getting churlish with Jack – something that rarely happens to her. And naturally, she’s affected by her marriage and its difficulties. It’s very easy to root for her. Jack is more of the world-weary nobleman variety, but he’s sympathetic nonetheless. He’s never quite gotten over Emma; she’s the tie to a youthful past and an innocence he would rather forget. But when she reappears in his life, he’s almost helpless in the face of his overwhelming attraction. It’s a frequent romance convention for a reason; it makes for a nice fantasy.
The secondary characters suffer somewhat in comparison. Most of them were more like background noise, and didn’t have a whole lot to them. And the villain of the piece borders on cartoonish. However, Emmaline has a married friend who has a nice little romance with her husband, and that plotline is cute. It also sounds as if some of the characters appeared in past books, so maybe they are more fleshed out there.
All in all, this is a Regency I’d recommend. Quiet Regencies, especially those with noble, deserving heroines, are a comfort read for me. Unfortunately, with the apparent demise of the genre they will be much harder to come by in the future. My tbr pile is full of unread trads, and I will probably be snapping up more at used bookstores in the future. Meanwhile, it’s nice to find one brand new one that’s worth seeking out.