Rachel's Change of Heart
Author Donna Simpson has a knack making difficult people seem sympathetic and interesting. Rachel’s Change of Heart is the story of how a girl who seems to have everything re-examines her values and discovers that what she has attained is not nearly so valuable as what she gave up to get it.
Rachel Neville, in the best Regency tradition, is a beautiful girl with an ambitious mother. She is engaged to be married to the impossibly stuffy and depressingly correct Lord Yarnell. Rich, handsome, and titled, Lord Yarnell seemed everything Rachel needed when she first considered him as a husband. Not only does Yarnell have the material wealth Rachel wants, he is sophisticated in the ways of the ton and satisfies her social climbing mother. He stands in stark contrast to Sir Colin Varins, the countrified admirerer Rachel has long kept at arms length. Regular readers of Donna Simpson will remember Colin from Pamela’s Second Season, in which he stormed London to pursue Rachel, only to be rebuffed.
After their engagement, Rachel’s doubts about her betrothed begin to grow. He treats her coldly and finds any display of emotion offensive. He expects Rachel to accept his opinions as fact, and rebuffs her input, such as when she suggests locales for their honeymoon. To make matters worse, Rachel finds her loyalty divided – she picked Yarnell, in part, for his discerning taste, but now discovers that her own family is on the wrong end of his quizzing glass. His insulting and snobbish attitude toward Rachel’s family is bad enough, but it is abetted by his mother’s equally condescending manner.
Lord Yarnell and his mother admire Rachel only for her beauty and manners, and she wonders whether it was foolish to dismiss marriage to a man who loves her. Rachel’s change of heart begins with her understanding that the other people in her life, including her sometimes ribald grandmother, her countrified admirer Colin and his eccentric spinster sister, are simply better people and are more worthy of her respect than Yarnell and his mother.
Andrometa, that eccentric spinster sister, is one key to this realization. Though Colin has loved Rachel for years, Andrometa never thought much of her. She doubted that Rachel would love her brother the way he wanted to be loved. Andrometa’s odd looks and spinsterish ways have made it easy for Rachel to dismiss her low opinion but now Rachel doubts herself. Through the course of this book Rachel comes to like and respect Andrometa. The more she cares for her the more she sees her own life as a shallow contrast.
An amateur boxer and country gentleman, Sir Colin Varins, makes an unlikely hero for a Regency Romance. Neither handsome nor witty, he’s the kind of man Rachel vowed never to marry. But he is loyal, and unlike Yarnell, he loves Rachel passionately. He thinks of her as perfect, which is part of the problem. Because Colin seemed to be in love with Rachel as an ideal, she felt he didn’t love her as a person and never took him all that seriously. But as the story progresses, Colin begins to see Rachel’s faults and lets her know he sees them. That, in part, is how the two end up developing a real relationship.
Much of Rachel’s Change of Heart is devoted to Rachel’s developing maturity, her relationship with Andrometa, and the clever way that she manages to break her relationship with Yarnell. Rachel is undoubtedly a headstrong young woman who is alternately spoiled and vulnerable. She is also the best thing about this book. It’s easy to judge her harshly at the start. She has made an engagement for the shallowest of reasons and fails to defend those who care about her. But watching her mature, discover her flaws, and rectify her decisions and behavior make her worth reading.
The flaw in the book is Sir Colin. He’s quite simply a dud. In writing a hero who is neither handsome nor witty, Donna Simpson failed to write one who was compelling. I admired Colin. I liked Colin. He’s the “salt of the Earth.” But no matter what he did, as a reader, I did not love Colin. Time and time again we are told that Colin is less than attractive (the word “homely” makes an appearance) without the compensating personality traits that would make him sexy. In fact there were times that I wished that the obnoxious Lord Yarnell would reform.
In addition to the main love story, a tender secondary romance features Andrometa and one of Colin’s boxing associates. This man is so different and rough around the edges that I wished more time had been spent on him.
Few books could survive an unsexy hero, but Rachel’s Change of Heart manages it. Despite my lack of passion for Sir Colin, I kept turning the pages in order to watch Rachel’s metamorphosis. I’m glad I read it and recommend it to lovers of Regencies and anyone who likes to read about the ways a silly person can mature and become someone genuinely worth knowing.