This story is firmly planted in two common Regency tropes, that of love developing between the dour guardian and his charge and a country mouse let loose on London society. Rather than overturning these tropes, the book embellishes them with well-meaning carryings-on and humor. It’s hard to do comedy well, but this tale manages without either breaking the timeframe or depending on malice. I chuckled and laughed aloud many times, as did the characters themselves.
Miss Penelope Fairweather is a genuinely loveable person who tries her best to help everyone she encounters regardless of social standing. She has a fierce protective streak and little sense of her own limitations. With the addition of a hateful step-mother, Penelope could have become a tragic figure. While she has moments of sorrow, though, her innate sense of self allows her to turn even deadly situations on their heads and make lifelong friends.
Her attraction to the Duke of Blackthorne, Charles Cornelius Radclyff, is immediate, though her admiration of his handsome features is quickly dampened by his scowl. He’s very aware of his position and responsibilities, which were thrust upon him at a young age when his father died, and does not appreciate the arrival of a tsunami to disrupt his carefully constructed life. He also feels Penelope’s draw, but sees it as dangerous and does everything he can to oust her. The combined efforts of his sister, his mother, and an unlikely ally are necessary to keep him from sending their guest home forthwith. The grim duke has much to learn before he opens his heart to the loveable heroine and her goat.
Speaking of the goat, Lady Bathsheba does not see herself as an animal and acts the confidant for Penelope more often than not. The supporting cast grows quite large by the end of the book, some of them with interesting stories of their own and others coming from unexpected places. Each has a different agenda, and few remain unchanged by Penelope’s good nature. There’s the duke’s sister, Lady Anne, as an instigator; the modiste convinced to transform Penelope; the grandfather Sir Henry with his ancient mind fixed on long-ago conventions; and so many others to add color to an already bright scene.
We know from the start this will be a somewhat melodramatic novel as Anne wants nothing more than chaos to enliven her life. She certainly gets what she’s hoping for in Penelope. The book lives up to its promise of a madcap tale. There is a bit of scheming that goes awry, but for the most part, Penelope either doesn’t think things through or is incapable of avoiding trouble, accidental or not.
As a historical romance, the ending is set. But how it comes about is appropriate to their adventurous courtship and to Penelope herself. Nor do the dress and conventions alone make the book feel Regency. The way they speak in excessive analogy is also splendid. Add to that how some characters slip, revealing hints of more to come, and the dialogue is skillfully written.
This book starts with a rather traditional premise, but it is the details and the laughter that bring this story to life. Penelope is a well-meaning sprite of chaos bringing disaster wherever she goes. I needed this read. You should see my extensive notes, full of things I cannot mention because of spoilers but which were too lovely not to tag. The story might not be momentous, but it’s a welcome break that both maintains the time, and provides a rollicking adventure and tale of true love.