This is Loretta Chase’s first book after a long hiatus. Those of you who have been waiting with bated breath should not be disappointed: Miss Wonderful is witty, charming, and deeply romantic.
The book opens with the Earl of Hargate wondering what the devil is wrong with his third son. Alistair hasn’t been the same since he came back from Waterloo – which is not to say that he’s indulging in typical tortured-hero melodrama. No, Alistair is just as polite and honorable as he ever was, but he hasn’t created a scandal with a woman in months, and his tailor bills are astronomical. The picture we get of Alistair (from his father’s eyes) is that of a good-for-nothing wastrel and dandy. Hargate determines to do something about Alistair, and makes an ultimatum: if Alistair doesn’t act to secure his financial future, Hargate will do it for him – at the expense of Alistair’s younger brothers.
Alistair turns for help to his best friend, Lord Gordmor, who interests him in a proposal to build a canal in Derbyshire. Alistair goes to Derbyshire, shuddering at its distance from civilization, to try to convince the local landowners that a canal through their property would be a profitable and welcome thing. He runs into immediate resistance from the beautiful and strong-willed daughter of the region’s biggest landowner, Mirabel Oldridge. Mirabel’s father is interested only in botany and doesn’t care about the canal, but Mirabel does; she will do everything in her power to thwart the scheme.
This conflict continues even when the attraction between them builds – this isn’t one of those romances where, on page 53, you’re thinking, “Just get married, that’ll solve all your problems.” Yes, they could marry; but what’s going to happen with this canal? Both Alistair and Mirabel have too much at stake to let it go.
Both characters are more than likable, and it is easy to sympathize with each of their conflicting agendas. Mirabel is a strong woman who has never allowed society’s expectations to keep her from the things that are important to her. And I particularly loved the hero of this novel; Alistair is absolutely adorable. He is a man whose passionate nature has frequently led him into trouble, so that he is wary of his feelings for Mirabel. But his innately decent and honorable nature lead him to find a solution to all the problems that keep them apart. There is a running joke through the book about how appalling the dandyish Alistair finds Mirabel’s unfashionable clothes and hair. The way this is resolved is one of the most satisfying and entertaining parts of the book.
The thing that really raises this above the level of your average Regency-set historical is not the characters or the plot, but Chase’s extremely engaging narrative style. She is truly one of the wittiest writers I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. I laughed when I read this book, usually not because of any actions on the characters’ parts, but because of Chase’s clever turns of phrase.
I haven’t read much Loretta Chase, and I’m beginning to think that was a mistake on my part. Miss Wonderful is a winning novel, and I wholeheartedly recommend it.