Two of Mary Balogh's hardest-to-find traditional regencies have just been reissued, both featuring terrific marriage of convenience love stories.
The Famous Heroine
This is one of my all-time favorite Balogh trads, and it is mostly due to Cora Downes. She is the daughter of a prosperous Bristol mill owner who saved the life of a duchess's grandson in Bath by jumping into the Avon river after the boy fell in. As a reward, the Duchess takes her to London and sponsors her for a season. There she meets Lord Francis, a fashionable - and influential - tulip of the ton who is recovering from a broken heart. Cora makes Francis laugh, and so he takes her under his wing to find a suitable husband. However, it is such a colorful wing that Cora forms the wrong impression of him. Francis is well-known for his love of color - his coats are turquoise, lemon and fuchsia wonders - and Cora comes to the conclusion that Francis is not, well, not a masculine man.
Cora is a delight. She's impulsive, self-deprecating, and funny, and bowls Francis over with her observations. She takes him out of his grief, and he cannot help but respond to her. Cora, who is terrified of titles, is happy to have found a friend in Francis for she thinks he is "safe," and so can be herself around him. When they are found in a seemingly compromising position, a quick marriage is in order. Surprises are in store for both on the wedding night.
The Plumed Bonnet
I'd never read this novel before (see aforementioned hard-to-find status), and really enjoyed reading it. Stephanie Gray is a governess who has left her position to accept an inheritance from a long-lost relation. Along the way, she is robbed and left wearing a fuchsia cloak and an outrageous bonnet made of fuchsia, pink and purple plumes given to her by a passing acting troupe. (I know, just go with it.) She flags down a carriage which holds Alistair Munro, the Duke of Bridgwater, who takes her for an actress or courtesan or some such, and believes she will help him while away the long journey in pleasant fashion. He doesn't believe a word she says about her life or impending inheritance, but is highly entertained by the clichéd tale she is spinning. When they arrive at her destination and he learns that she has told the truth, he is horrified to realize that she is thoroughly compromised, that he has ruined her chance at collecting her inheritance, and so offers to marry her himself.
Poor Stephanie is whisked to London and Alistair's mother to be given future-duchess lessons. The Duchess means well, but all she succeeds in doing is to stifle Stephanie's personality, subjugating it so that she can be the perfect duchess. Stephanie does this willingly, for she feels greatly indebted to Alistair, believing him to have literally saved her life and treating her like a lady while on the road, when all else turned their backs on her because of how she was dressed. Alistair misses the Stephanie of the road, but doesn't tell her that he didn't believe her story either, thinking that what she doesn't know won't hurt her. But it is hurting them both. When the truth comes out and Stephanie is freed from the overwhelming burden of debt that was killing her soul, they must now decide if they can salvage their marriage, and if they even want to try.
These two novels show Balogh's range. The light-hearted Famous Heroine and the angsty, emotional rollercoaster Plumed Bonnet are both great examples of Balogh's talent and diversity.
Reviewed by Cheryl Sneed, January 24, 2012