by Alissa Baxter, regency (2003)
Belgrave House, $5.00, ISBN N/A
Lord Fenmore's Wager is better off retitled Feitsy Miss Thang Does Her Regency Thang, because that's what this book is all about. It has its charms, but I must confess I scratch my head a little when it soon becomes apparent that heroine Diana Hamilton isn't just a traditional Regency heroine, she's a Regency superheroine.
It all started when Diana learns that her brother Tony has used her as a wager in a card game with the Earl of Fenmore - and lost. Tony actually thinks that this is a good development in both their lives. Well, it's not as bad as it seems. Lord Fenmore is more interested in hiring her as a companion to his mother and governess to his two naughty nephews. Making the best of situation, our now homeless heroine settles in nicely in her new role. Soon she proves to be the most understanding schoolteacher to the twin brats and the kids in the village, she is the best companion an old lady can have, and when she dashes off to Bath to look into an unexpected inheritance, every man she meets likes her and wants to enjoy her company. When Lord Fenmore decides to follow Diana to Bath, he'll probably have to stand in line. How lucky for him, therefore, that Diana has been nursing an infatuation for him that she tries so hard to deny.
One thing that struck me about this book is how it utilizes a very familiar premise only to create a surprisingly buoyant story out of it. I like Fenmore. I like Diana although there are times when the author tends to overshine Diana's halo. While I do wonder at how Diana comes to decide that she loves Fenmore so early and so abruptly in the story, I enjoy reading about her barreling her way through life with a healthy dose of charm and determination. I know I've made fun of tedious and humorless Regency heroines in the past, but Diana shows how a heroine can be constrained by the rigid rules of her time and still come off as a human being instead of some perplexing neurotic creature. Alissa Baxter's greatest triumph in this book is to allow her characters to remain true to the social norms and values of those Regency days without sacrificing the human elements in these characters. The characters are familiar, but at the same time, the author manages to tweak them here and there to prevent them from being merely stale rehash of overused stereotypes.
I do have a quibble with the characterization of Diana, in that she often comes off as too good to be true. It's not strictly her personality, but it's how the author chooses to have her other characters react around Diana. From the way most of the gentlemen behave, Diana must be some truly magnificent Mary Sue creature come to life - except for a lecher, other men all but stumble in their admiration for Diana. Even the lecher, in a way, admires Diana, or shall I say her assets. After a while, the whole Diana on a pedestal thingie becomes rather tedious.
Still, what can I say? I actually find this book romantic. I find it funny too. Sure, I could wish for the romance to develop a little more slowly, especially on Diana's part (seriously, how did she realize that she loves Fenmore so soon anyway?), and turning up the heat when it comes to the more passionate scenes can't hurt either. But Lord Fenmore's Wager entertains me when most of the traditional Regencies I try to read bore me silly. As a story that is familiar yet different enough to be memorable, Lord Fenmore's Wager is a pretty good bet.
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