The Dashing Debutante
Many novels, no matter what the genre, feature a story with a lot of action, but whose main characters (in romance, the hero and heroine) do not change as a result of that action. Even though the action is resolved by the end of the book, it somehow seems more satisfactory if the characters actually undergo a change because of the circumstances they face; Mary Balogh, Edith Layton and Mary Jo Putney all excel at this kind of character development. Although she is not yet ready to join the ranks of those ladies, Alissa Baxter’s fine debut, The Dashing Debutante is an auspicious first offering, featuring a hero and heroine whorecognize their faults and whose respective personalities make them a couple one could easily see lasting beyond the pages of the book. The author’s faults are that she relies too much on Regency stereotypes, but, for the most part, her characters overcome their two-dimensional aspects and it’s a pleasure to watch them fall in love.
Alexandra Grantham is a 19 year-old society miss about to make her debut. Though she would much rather stay at Grantham Place with her sickly older brother, she knows it is required that she go to London, despite the fact that she is determined never to wed. It seems that Alexandra’s liberal education has left her unable to stomach the thought of being subordinate to a man.
Her behavior initially is that of a classic Regency hoyden, but thankfully this comes to an end soon after the book begins. Alexandra meets and gets off on the wrong foot with, the Duke of Stanford, the nobleman who has inherited a property near her family’s home. The two meet again in London, where the Duke renowned for his rakish ways and his boredom with all unmarried society ladies makes her the rage by paying marked attention to her.
Alexandra tries to resist the Duke’s charms, but eventually succumbs and bemoans the fact to herself that she had so adamantly insisted she would never marry even though she assumes the Duke is just amusing himself at her expense. For his part, the Duke is uncertain about Alexandra’s feelings about him, and his confusion makes this usually confident person even more adorable, although it must be admitted I have a weakness for rakes, even without Baxter having one of her characters say that “reformed rakes make the best husbands.” (Hi, Honey!)
The Dashing Debutante is longer than the average Regency, clocking in at 270 pages in trade paperback size, so it was disappointing that Baxter didn’t always use her extra space wisely. She relies overly much on hackneyed phrases and characters, such as our “Titian-haired beauty,” the ghastly title, the bitchy scorned mistress, and the rustic, overbearing Mama whose conversation is ludicrously transparent. If those crutches don’t annoy you too much, or if this is one of your first Regencies, you won’t notice them as you get swept up in Alexandra and the Duke’s blossoming romance.
There is some dramatic action, but for the most part, Baxter tells a simple story story of two people falling in love. Alexandra doesn’t have to get married, the Duke isn’t in the clutches of some self-destructive passion when he meets her; they are just two people with no intention of falling in love who do just that. And that is the charm of this book, despite its faults and author shortcuts.