The Naked Marquis
Sally Mackenzie is gradually undressing the peerage. First we had The Naked Duke, now The Naked Marquis and next year we’ll have The Naked Earl. If this title trend continues, we may end up with The Naked, Untitled But Wealthy Man Of Property.
Charles Dalrymple, the younger son of a marquis, went into the army, one of the few acceptable professions for a gentleman. He enjoyed military life and would have made it his career, but when his brother and sister in law are killed in Italy, Charles must assume the title as well as responsibility for his two small nieces. While he would rather be a soldier, he doesn’t whine or fuss – it helps that his brother was a responsible steward of the estate. All he really has to do is marry and have a son to secure the succession, not too much to ask of a man, but Charles has an aversion to silly title hunting chits and it seems that’s the only kind of woman he meets.
Upon his return to the manor, Charles’s nieces bond with him immediately, particularly the youngest, who calls him Daddy Charles. With them is their nanny, and the vicar’s daughter Emma, who helps Nanny. Emma and Charles have known each other for years; they played as children and he used to call her runt. Emma is still kind of short, but she’s filled out nicely and he decides right then and there to marry her.
Emma isn’t sure. Oh, she thinks Charles has grown handsomer than ever (and yes she sees him naked), but she doesn’t want to marry just because some marquis needs a heir. Anyway she has her own problems. Not only is she being courted by another man, her long-widowed father is keeping company with a widow, and though the woman is perfectly nice, Emma is petulant.
Charles is the best character in the book. He’s a nice, amiable lighthearted sort of fellow. Those who like sullen, jealous, bad-boy types will think he is a wimp, but when it gets to the love scenes, he could probably teach some of those bad boys a few lessons.
Emma is a bit harder to warm up to. She rejects Charles for so long – and for such a silly reason – that I almost wanted him to go find someone sensible. She eventually wises up, but it was almost too late for her to redeem herself in my eyes.
Charles’s aunt is a delightfully funny supporting character, with her flamboyant dress sense and her spoiled cat Queen Bess. She has a large group of friends who get together, ostensibly for a lady’s salon to discuss Important Matters, but actually all they do is drink as much brandy as they can pour down their throats (they should call it a lady’s saloon).Though Emma presented some problems, the villains were more troublesome. All were ugly to the point of caricature. The two silly chits looking to marry Charles are physically ugly – one is tall, skinny and horsefaced, and one is short, fat and piggy looking. They both hate children, are rude to Emma, whom they consider beneath them, and even are nasty to animals. Frankly this was evil to the point of overkill. And that goes for the main villain as well. He’s short, smarmy, has no taste in clothes, and poor hygiene too. Just like the villain from MacKenzie’s earlier book The Naked Duke, this man may look silly, but actually he’s dangerous and changes from smarmy to scary in the blink of an eye. Luckily there was more to like to The Naked Marquis than not to like, and on the whole I enjoyed it. It has enough funny bits and charming characters to balance out the exasperating heroine. Sally MacKenzie has a deft touch with comedy and is one of the better light Regencies I have read this year.