Emily Fairfax, Irish Spinster, has invented the persona of Edgar St. John through whom she writes very successful plays. When a fop takes exception to one of her characters, thinking it is based on him, he challenges St. John to a duel. Emily accepts, but only to have a chance to meet Lucius Ashford, legendary figure in society, whose activities she has avidly followed in the London papers. Lucius is England's most popular dueling second, for he always manages to avoid, or at least lessen the bloodshed of the participants.
Emily and her twelve-year-old sister Letty meet the men on the assigned Irish dueling field and invite them to her home to discuss the duel. Lucius quickly figures out that Emily is St. John and is very intrigued. But Emily is disappointed in Lucius. She had expected some romantic figure and cannot fathom out how a man who has been involved in so many duels can be so dull. But Lucius knows the dreadful cost of dueling and has made it a mission of his to help lessen the damage they can inflict.
Lucius is also a dedicated MP, working for reform, and after his return to England begins a tentative correspondence with Emily. In one letter, she bares her soul to him and after much deliberation, he does as well, surprised at himself for doing so. However, in a move that has Big Understanding written all over it, the letter never arrives. In a fit a pique, Emily writes a new play featuring the character of “Lord Luscious Ash-Heap”, a duel-stopping, stuttering MP and, her spleen having been vented, stashes the play away. In yet another Big Misunderstanding contrivance, Letty finds the play and sends it off to London where it promptly goes into production, sending Emily off to England to try and stop it.
While there were some funny moments here, and some interesting character quirks (Letty is a Wannabe Milliner, specializing in bonnets decorated with bugs), on the whole there were too many convenient – or inconvenient – plot contrivances, which overshadowed the characters.
This is the first Regency-set novel for O'Brien who has specialized in time travel previously, and it is glaringly obvious that she is uncomfortable with the era. She doesn't have a good feel for the period. All these ton members are openly calling themselves “businessmen”, are concerned with their “business” – Lucius keeps an office in the City to conduct “business” and yet still manages to remain one of the prizes of the Marriage Mart. And while O'Brien does lots of Regency Name Dropping (Prinny stops by the house for tea, Beau Brummel and Caro Lamb are everywhere) it takes more than the right names to evoke a period.
Reviewed by Cheryl Sneed, December 12, 2003