Lately, I’ve become more and more fond of traditional regency romances, because I like their focus on developing a complex, romantic tale with sparkling dialogue in a compact form while keeping sensual details to a minimum. Back in the day, Candice Hern wrote some wonderful trads, so I was excited to find out that she has not only republished those books in e-format, but has also written new ones. Desperate Measures and Lady Ann’s Excellent Adventure are short stories in the same vein, although the heat level here is a little higher than the usual trads.
Set in 1810, Desperate Measures is a romance that takes place during one evening at a ball. Young Lydia Bettridge is suffering from the pangs of unrequited love. She’s desperate to have her brother’s friend, the Golden God, Geoffrey Danforth, notice her, so she and another of her brother’s friends, Phillip, hatch a plot to make Geoffrey jealous. Phillip is to play the love-smitten swain in full view of Geoffrey in the hope that seeing another young man pay such assiduous attention to her will awaken Geoffrey’s latent awareness of her.
As Lydia impatiently waits for tardy Phillip to show, who should arrive in his place, but Geoffrey himself. What is Lydia to do now? She soliders on through two dances and supper while trying to wrack her brains as to how to put the jealousy-inducing side of her earlier plan into operation. Her attention alights on a well-seasoned rake and she manages to capture his jaded interest in a brief exchange that has Geoffrey fulminating.
I enjoyed seeing how Lydia grows in confidence from the beginning of the evening to the end. She arrives at the ball with her confidence at its lowest ebb, desperate to be noticed. She leaves having captured the prize of the marriage mart, her confidence at an all-time high. Usually, trads have older heroes who cause the young ingénues to act in mature ways; however, in this story, these young individuals themselves act sensibly and discuss their differences and opinions honestly and forthrightly, with no immature flouncing leading to misunderstandings.
Desperate Measures was first published in The Mammoth Book of Regency Romance, and I give it a B.
Set in 1802, Lady Ann’s Excellent Adventure is a perfect gem of a short story, full of verve and joy and I simply fell in love with it. The Earl of Evesham is merrily tooling his new curricle through the streets of London when he spots a young woman perched in a tree. He approaches her after convincing himself that this hoyden couldn’t possibly be his reputed-to-be decorous affianced bride (sight unseen), only to discover, to his dismay, that she is none other than the very same Lady Ann. Thus begins the story that is a time out of time, when the ordinary cares of daily life are set aside to indulge in a last fling before destiny wrests them back into the reality of their predetermined future.
They introduce themselves as Will and Annie, obviously well-born but not divulging their true stations, choosing instead to be lulled into thinking of themselves as ordinary people bent on enjoying life’s simpler pleasures. Of Will, Annie thinks:
All the men in her life had always been overly conscious of her rank and expectations, and had either treated her with kid gloves, or with strict regimens and rules. It was so unusual to have a man indulge her not because of who she was but just because he wanted to.
For one entire day, Will and Annie share their thoughts as they share their amusements. As the sun traipses across the sky, the pair go from a balloon ascension in Hyde Park to the wharves of Southwark to the shops at Ludgate Hill to the 360-degree panoramic painting of London at Spring Gardens to a public masquerade, endlessly talking and always discovering the beauty and the wonder in the other.
This is romance at its finest; that first slide into recognition, leading to increasing awareness, thence to awe and delight and tenderness. There are no villains, no arguments, no black moments to distract from the development of that intricate web of caring. That such a fully-realized romance can be built within the confines of a short story shows the author’s consummate skill.
Lady Ann’s Excellent Adventure is a new piece by Ms. Hern, and I give it a solid A.
While Lady Ann is not a real historical figure, Ms. Hern explains in her Author’s Note that “
I have known Ms. Hern through online circles for more than a decade and have had many conversations with her about historical research. She has an encyclopedic knowledge of the Georgian and Regency eras, supplemented by a plethora of research books and a large collection of original artifacts. Despite this vast knowledge, I am impressed with the restraint she employs in the historical tidbits she drops into her prose – only the choicest, most telling details will do.
I would also like to point out how delighted I am with the covers for the republished and new books. Each cover is a copy of an original print from her private collection of illustrations from Ackermann’s Repository of Arts and La Belle Assemblée, the print books of fashion from the Regency Era.
On the whole, I found Desperate Measures and Lady Ann’s Excellent Adventure, in particular, superbly written, well researched, and very enjoyable, which means they belong on my keeper shelf to be re-read often. If you’re fond of traditional historicals or of historical short stories, I’m only too pleased to recommend these two tales. If only Ms. Hern were writing more new trads…