The Mysterious Miss Fairchild
Sometimes as a reader, I’m in the mood for a quiet, well-told story, and Sarah Mallory’s The Mysterious Miss Fairchild hit that spot beautifully. Yes, there are mysteries to be found here, but they are more of the slow reveal variety and less of the high action, thrill-a-minute sort. The book takes place primarily within a small bubble of Bath society in 1814, and it’s a gentle romance of the sort lovers of the old Regency trads will adore.
Natalya Fairchild is only weeks away from her twenty-first birthday, and upon coming of age, her guardians have promised to reveal to her the story of her background. Until this time, she has had little knowledge of her parentage aside from knowing her mother died in childbirth. However, no expense has been spared on her upkeep or on the education which has gone far beyond the normal accomplishments of a lady of her day. Natalya attended a girls’ school, and now that she resides in Bath with her aunt and uncle, she continues daily lessons in foreign languages, history, art, and all the social graces.
The beautiful – and very sheltered – Natalya has captured the attention of Lord Dalmorren’s young ward, who is himself nearly of age. Concerned over Natalya’s largely unknown background, Tristan Quintrell, Lord Dalmorren, travels to Bath to investigate the lady himself. Expecting a brazen gold digger, Tristan discovers instead an intelligent, honorable lady. Not only is she far from what he expected, but Tristan finds himself quite drawn to her. Tristan came into a position of responsibility at a young age, and it’s clear from the text that he is only about six or seven years older than the heroine, which is worth mentioning since some readers have a certain level of discomfort with large age differences in a romance.
The development of the romance between Natalya and Tristan is quite subtle, particularly at first. After all, for all Tristan knows, Natalya’s affections may be fully engaged by his ward/nephew so he needs to ferret out where things stand. There is tension as Tristan tries to figure out Natalya, and Natalya expresses her very normal feelings of hurt and insult over Tristan’s suspicions.
The mystery of Natalya’s background plays very heavily into the story. Much is made of the fact that she is only marginally accepted in Bath society due to the lack of knowledge about her ancestry. Natalya also makes it quite plain that she longs to know more about who her parents were, and she spends much time speculating, both alone as well as with her guardians, and with Tristan about it. Naturally, she also wonders what future her guardians have prepared for her, and this takes her mind everywhere from advantageous marriage to her being trained as an intelligent courtesan. Fairly heavy hints are given throughout the text, so one suspects many readers will guess at least part of the truth, but the lead up to the reveal of Natalya’s heritage is quite enjoyable nevertheless.
The story is at its best when we as readers get to follow Natalya and Tristan through the social rounds in Bath. The glimpses into Natalya’s rather restricted life with her guardians as well as time spent with friends show her as a more well-rounded character than many heroines I encounter. She has plenty of time on-page with Tristan, but she also lives a life that is not centered wholly on him. There’s a bit of drama near the end of the book, part of which was effective and part which seemed like manufactured tension with Tristan, and that put me off a little bit.
Even so, The Mysterious Miss Fairchild is a delightful story that is tightly written and well suited to the shorter format of Harlequin Historicals. If you’re looking for a sweet and easy read with a little dash of mystery to it, definitely pick this novel up.