The demise of the Regency has left a hole that some authors have attempted to fill. One of these is Mary Blayney and, though I have great hopes for her, I think I’ll have to wait for the next book before shouting Hallelujah to the skies.
The Duke of Meryon has been widowed for a year. He has spent that time as much in grief as in revenge by single-handedly wreaking havoc on the Duke of Bendas for previous wrongs by attempting to strip the half-mad duke of his title and estates. However, one evening at a party, Meryon’s grief resurges and he finds an unexpected kinship with a lovely woman.
She is Signora Elena Verano, widow of an Italian violinist and legitimate daughter of the Duke of Bendas. Fourteen years earlier and already showing signs of insanity, her father cast her out of the house and she’s lived in Italy ever since. Now Elena has returned to England to marry off her ward, never dreaming that she would share a mutual attraction with one of the most powerful dukes in the realm.
They are both mature, adult characters over the age of 30 (thank God), and what a phenomenal joy it was to read about normal people with normal foibles. Meryon and Elena had happy marriages and neither has even dreamed of remarrying since Meryon has his heir and Elena values her independence. When conflict arises, there is nary a sign of artifice and, although there are many opportunities for misunderstandings, the author allows neither character to make them. That being said, Meryon’s character is rather inconsistent so I don’t know as much about Elena as I’d have liked since he gets most of the POV.
The book feels like an expanded Regency, with an emphasis on characterization rather than hormones, a strong cast of secondary characters, and an immersion in the historical period, as well as our characters’ lives. Ms. Blayney only partially succeeds in the latter, because, while she successfully integrates some historical references in the conversations, she also tacks on an unnecessary 50 pages or so. I can take the Corn Law if it’s interesting and relevant. I can’t take it if it’s neither.
There is one more factor that affects everything – plot, character, setting – that prevents a recommendation. At its best the prose is utterly unique to the genre; at its worst it is wordy, tiresome, and peppered with extraneous miscellany. And if it isn’t longwinded, the prose is often inexplicable, with some moments that frankly make the characters sound idiotic (think of them as prose farts). My forehead spent most of the 417 pages in a semi-permanent state of quizzicality, and I can only take so much before my enjoyment disappears.
In retrospect, it’s almost as if Stranger’s Kiss is two books – one, a jazzy, snazzy 350-page rocker that refreshes the Regency Historical, and the other a prosy, fusty puzzlement. Since the latter won out I can’t really recommend the book, but I can and will keep an eye on Ms. Blayney in the hopes that she’ll have benefited from a sharper editing axe in the interim.
I live in Seattle, Washington and work as a legal assistant. I remember learning to read (comic strips) at a young age and nowadays try to read about 5-6 books a week. I love to travel, especially to Europe, and enjoy exploring smaller towns off the tourist track though London is my favorite city in the world.