by Kathryn Caskie, historical (2004)
Warner, $5.99, ISBN 0-446-61423-8
Kathryn Caskie's debut Rules Of Engagement isn't the most original or groundbreaking Regency romance around, but what it offers is oodles and oodles of fun.
Viola and Letitia Featherton decide that it's time their nieces get married to some nice young men of the Ton. As spinsters, they never get to have a London season or meet nice guys in their youth, but they will make sure that their nieces don't end up on the shelves like them. Their father has left them a strategy guidebook, Rules Of Engagement, and they decide to use this book to get Eliza Merriweather a husband on her reluctant London debut.
Eliza soon realizes that love and war isn't any too different when her aunts start playing really dirty. Well, she has a few tricks up her sleeves too. She'll get that impoverished Highland earl Magnus MacKinnon to pretend to be her beau in exchange for her helping him find a wealthy bride. On his part, Magnus just wants to find a way to restore the family coffers after they are bled dry by his wastrel father and brother. He is attracted to Eliza but she has no money. Also, she wants to go to Italy to study art. They can't be a good match for each other, surely?
What I like about this story is how Ms Caskie actually gives Eliza a sensible reason for her stand against marriage. Eliza's parents were happy together, but Eliza believes that marriage never allowed her mother to pursue her dreams. Eliza is determined not to let any man stand in the way of her dreams of becoming an artist. Eliza is also quite practical and intelligent despite one or two addled-brain moments, which makes her a fun and likable heroine. Magnus is a likable hero too, especially when he falls really hard for Eliza. The romance sparkles with some really funny moments and some genuinely sweet drama.
The premise and cast of characters will be familiar to readers of the Regency subgenre, but Ms Caskie manages to make them sparkle with buoyant charm. While the story becomes a little heavy-handed with some decidedly contemporary issues later on, I find Rules Of Engagement an entertaining romp nonetheless. The author seems to be having a great time writing this book, her characters come off as also having a ball in the story, and I find it very easy to be struck by the infectious sense of fun that permeates the pages of this book.
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