The Marriage Campaign
If writing traditional Regency Romances were an Olympic sport, Susannah Carleton would get a 10 for technical proficiency and a 5 for artistic impression. The Marriage Campaign has a lot of excellent details, but because of the short length required in this sub-genre, the details are hastily displayed, quickly referenced and difficult for the reader to absorb. That said, Carleton’s writing has a burgeoning spark that, given time (in writing and in book length) should result in some distinctive, interesting work.
Like Cinderella, Karolina Lane, the daughter of the late Viscount of Padbury, has been forced to work as an unpaid servant for her stepmother, while that lady attempts to launch her own daughter, Karolina’s half-sister Lydia. Karolina, also called Karla, is shy, retiring and an absolute beauty who is far too embarrassed to admit the truth of her situation even to a close, older female friend. Since Karla’s beauty will overshadow Lydia’s chance for a good match, Karla will not be given a season when Lydia makes her debut. She has instead been banished to the schoolroom where she tutors the younger children (whom, it is noted, could not have been fathered by the Viscount, an indicator that the Viscountess is not an honorable woman).
Meanwhile, Robert Symington, Marquess of Elston, has just inherited his title from his father and has finished serving in the Army. His father’s will included an odd codicil, namely, that he marry one of the women whom his father lists within a year or an unnamed threat will take effect.
Since he is not acquainted with any of the ladies on the list, the good Major’s “marriage campaign” is to find the one lady from amongst them to whom he can offer marriage with love in his heart.
Robert’s friends, George Winterbrook and Beth Castleton, are also privy to the odd codicil, and both try to assist Robert in discovering which female is the most likely to be a good match for him. Their own story is told in Carleton’s debut novel, A Scandalous Journey, the action of which is nearly simultaneous with this book. The three agree to meet in London for the Season.
Robert makes a map of his journey to London with the intention of visiting several of the young ladies on the way to London. He is able to scratch some women off his list completely, while he hopes to get to know better those who are still in the running when they all return to London. Robert stops at the Padbury Estates where he meets the Viscountess and Lydia, but he is not re-introduced to Karla (whom he had met seventeen years earlier), a situation he finds bizarre. He does meet the governess, however, a young lady who claims to be a relation of the Padburys. She is, of course, Karla and, though he never sees her face clearly, he makes it clear to the Viscountess that the Beau Monde will frown on such favoritism. Because of his warning, Karla is allowed to go to make her debut.
What makes The Marriage Campaign both wonderful and frustrating is its strict adherence to the tone of the times, as well as the short length of the traditional Regency. Carleton embeds so many luscious Regency details, as well as references to the other unfolding stories, that it detracts from the main story of Robert and Karla. If there were more pages, or fewer allusions to the upcoming stories, it would have been ultimately more satisfying. As Blythe has noted, however, Carleton is definitely one to watch, especially if given room to stretch her research and her romance.