I like historical romances set in the regency period, and since I do, I always begin a new one hoping that I will find in it the right mix of societal maneuvering, bantering dialogue, and period feel. Nicola Cornick partially delivers this in her book, Lady Polly. Unfortunately, this book offers about as much bad as good, and this made for a rather uneven read.
Lady Polly is the Earl of Seagrave’s daughter. She is young and pretty and most sought after in Society. At the beginning of the story she has just refused her nineteenth offer of marriage. Of those nineteen refusals, there is only one she knows to have been a mistake: five years ago she shied away from an opportunity to elope with Lord Henry Marchnight because she was frightened by the situation and the high intensity of his emotions. Polly has always regretted that she didn’t have the courage to run off with Henry because she knows now that he is the only man she will ever love.
Henry Marchnight has spent the intervening years cultivating his image as a frivol, a rake, and a womanizer. A la Percy Blakeney, he has become an undefined sort of Scarlet Pimpernel. He’s here, he’s there, he’s everywhere, doing we’re never told quite what in the government’s service. He meets Polly again at a ball and realizes that he still has feelings for her and that she still may have feelings for him. But his investigation into the whereabouts of a dangerous escaped criminal interferes with his renewed pursuit of Polly. Unfortunately for him, his cover requires him to be in a number of rather compromising places and situations. So just as he wants to persuade Polly that he isn’t as depraved as he looks, his behavior seems to contradict him. Will they ever be able to get past their old hurts and all of the deception?
First of all, I don’t know who the editor of this book was, but a full quarter of the dialogue was punctuated with exclamation points! So the characters appeared to be in a state of constant excitement or agitation! As you can see this gets annoying to read after a while! The editor should have caught this! Otherwise, the dialogue would have been rather enjoyable. It was occasionally a bit stilted because the characters spoke in the convoluted High Regency Romance dialect, but that wasn’t too off-putting and I would have certainly liked it better without the excessive use of exclamation points.
The characters, lead and secondary, were a mixed bag. I liked Henry. For all that he seemed to pop up everywhere (and I mean everywhere) unexpectedly, he was pretty interesting. But Polly didn’t seem like much of a match for him. She was too shy and constrained. She wasn’t a bad character, but I couldn’t really understand what Henry saw in her, either during their original involvement, or during the course of the story. The villain of the story I guessed immediately. He was the only one-dimensional male character, so of course he would have to be Henry’s secret nemesis. Most of the rest of the secondary characters didn’t leave much of an impression, good or bad.
Now even though it looks like I didn’t enjoy the story, actually I did. At least I enjoyed parts of it. I would be reading along, sort of slogging through, and then there would be a fully enjoyable moment, a comic scene, a piece of nice sexual tension or a bit of fun banter between Henry and Polly. There were enough of these good scenes to save the book’s pace from dragging.
Overall, this is a fair read – not great, nor horrible, just fair. Harry’s character was well-delineated but Polly’s wasn’t, and the villain was a walking stereotype. And let’s not forget to mention the punctuation problems! Each and every exclamation point served only to pull me out of the narrative flow of the story. Rather than reading Lady Polly, you would be better off to pick up a copy of the author’s The Larkswood Legacy instead, which one of my colleagues reviewed not long ago and thoroughly enjoyed.