Mr. Malcolm's List
With the demise of the traditional regency lines at Signet and Zebra/Kensington, it is smaller publishing houses that offer most of the trads coming out at present. I was very interested therefore to review Mr. Malcolm’s List, subtitled A Farce of Historic Proportions, by Suzanne Allain. I found it a pleasant read overall, but too uneven to warrant a whole-hearted recommendation.
The Hon. Jeremy Malcolm is only the younger son of an earl, but as he is very wealthy, he is considered highly eligible, and many young ladies have attempted to catch his interest. Miss Julia Thistlewaite has high hopes after he has accompanied her to the opera one night, but when he seems to have forgotten about her existence, she flies into a rage, which is only increased after her cousin, Malcolm’s best friend, inadvertently discloses that Malcolm has a list of attributes he expects from his future wife, and that Julia was found wanting. To get revenged, Julia invites an old friend from school to visit her and transforms her into the very woman Malcolm wants, so that he will fall in love with her and be rejected in turn.
Vicar’s daughter Selina Dalton is enchanted to be invited to London. She recently came into some money, but because she has no entrée into London society save through Julia and her mother, she is dependent on them, so she reluctantly agrees to Julia’s plan, hoping her friend will abandon it rather sooner than later.
Selina meets Malcolm in a library (where else!) during a ball, and they are attracted immediately. Their rapidly growing friendship is hindered only by Julia’s meddling and another possible suitor of Selina’s, Mr. Ossory.
The first half of the novel is a comedy of manners in the typical vein of a traditional Regency. I found it enjoyable, if standard fare. The characters are likeable if not terribly original, and there are some rather more serious undertones of how one can go about in finding a suitable partner that are insightful and give the story more depth. During the second half, the farce character announced in the subtitle becomes far more prominent and leads to some silliness and rather contrived plot convolutions. I liked that part less.
My main disappointment with the novel was the style, however. Maybe I am just very demanding in this aspect, but from a traditional Regency I expect some elegance and some attempt to write in an elaborate manner. To what I know of Regency language, the terms Suzanne Allain uses are correct, but her style in general is just too plain and short-sentenced to please me.
So while Mr. Malcolm’s List entertained me pleasantly enough for an evening, it also fell short of my expectations in several ways, and I recommend it mostly to those who miss the traditional Regencies and want to give a new author a try.