Review: ROSALIND: A Regency Romance

ROSALIND: A Regency Romance audiobook cover. A young woman in an empire-line dress. ROSALIND: A Regency Romance by Jenny Hambly.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐
Duration: 6 hrs 43 mins.

Rosalind: A Regency Romance, Bachelor Brides, Book 1 by Jenny Hambly is an entertaining Regency romance with plenty of intrigue and mystery to keep it going.

Audible Summary: He is determined to avoid marriage, she to despise men....

London 1818: Destitute, disillusioned, and desperate, Lady Rosalind Marlowe sets the tongues of Regency London wagging when she becomes the "Mayfair Thief". Targeting only those who had won large sums of money from her father, bleeding him dry and causing him to take his own life, she decides to teach them a lesson. She takes something valuable from each, leaving her calling card with a bible quote behind. On her last outing, she is caught red-handed.

Bored, restless, and guilt-ridden over the death of his own father and with his accusations of him being a selfish whelp still ringing in his ears, Lord Atherton heads off a Bow Street runner who is pursuing Rosalind. In an altruistic act, he engages her to be a companion to his mother, leading her to believe he is making amends for his father’s actions. Unaware that he has become the target of enmity from a desperate gambler from whom he has won a large sum of money, they are thrown into a series of increasingly dangerous situations.

Even as events conspire to draw them closer together, Rosalind discovers she has been hired under false pretenses. Will they manage to overcome both pride and prejudice to finally find happiness, or will an unexpected letter from a solicitor drive a final wedge between them?

©2018 Jennifer A. Hambly (P)2019 Jennifer A. Hambly.

I enjoyed this audiobook and its slight departure from many similar historical romances, but it still adheres to most of the traditional elements and I'm not sure I would really describe it as a 'thriller', despite the claims on the cover.

In the beginning I was thrown a little off-kilter by the easy openness between characters who are scarcely acquainted, which is so uncommon for the era that it sometimes unseats it slightly. Their warmth is charming, but it takes some getting used to. It's also present when the men in this audiobook address each other by their given names not their titles, surnames - or even nicknames - which would have been rather irregular amongst the gentry. Whilst it is not unprecedented it is unusual, but it soon felt more natural as I grew to know the characters better and the depth of their friendships became clear.

I especially loved Lord Atherton and his family. The Dowager, Lady Atherton, is a wise and wily matriarch and his sister, Belle, is a delight. They contributed much of the humour which really helped endear me to the characters and become invested in their fates. It felt very much like Sir Philip Bray's story were being teased for a future novel, and I hope this is so as it would be nice to see him take a more central role.

As well as not always being faithful to Regency grammar and styling, some of the language felt overly-embellished at the beginning, as if the author had tried to squeeze in as much cant and cockney as possible to try and make it authentic, and to pepper the text with facts and phrases discovered during her research. Sometimes it didn't really suit the characters, such as Rosalind's maid, Lucy, calling Ned a "lobcock" immediately before quoting a bible verse and talking about living by "the Good Lord's teachings". Lucy may not be a gentlewoman but if she was goodly then she would still have been careful with her language, especially in front of a Lady.)

This gimmicky tendency was exemplified by lengthy and recurring references to "Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen", which Rosalind says she has "always wanted to read". This is an awkward conceit which really pulls the listener out of the story and cheapens any moment it is shoehorned into. I had only just forgiven it when the author pulled out an "...although it goes against my better judgement" speech straight from the pages of the aforementioned classic. Referencing such a well known text so directly makes the book feel like amateur fanfiction, and is all the more frustrating because the rest of this audiobook is certainly good enough to stand on its own two feet. Despite the knowing comparisons it still appears trite and rather silly, and utterly ruined one of the most highly anticipated scenes between Rosalind and George by turning it into a clumsy parody. (So annoyed with it was I, that I had to pause the audio while I went to make a cup of tea to assuage my disappointment. The dog failed to appreciate my exasperation, so my partner was subjected to the whole of it. At least he had the good sense to ratify my dismay without needing to be bribed with biscuits.)

I do appreciate the compulsion to honour one's forbears when writing genre fiction, but it is rarely done with enough subtlety to blend into the narrative. Unfortunately, on this particular matter, this book dispenses with subtlety altogether.

N.B: There is also an argument to be made about the accuracy of Rosalind referencing Jane at all, though that includes much supposition. Austen was famously credited as simply 'A Lady' in the books published during her lifetime, and many of her novels remained out of print for several years after her death in 1817. Whilst her identity was an open secret in some circles, and her books fashionable amongst the aristocracy, Rosalind is supposed to have had little opportunity to mix with society. This book is set in 1818, so Rosalind is technically a contemporary of Austen's, but given Jane's limited reach and renown until the mid-19th century, (and the scarcity of book reviews for her novels!) it is unlikely that a young Lady as sheltered as Rosalind would be so familiar with Austen as to long for access to her books. This is rather irrelevant as there are many ways it could be circumvented, but given the prominence of the references to Austen the context has some pertinence. 

Alongside the traditional Regency elements was, of course, the dastardly plot against Lord Atherton. This lent the story an interesting diversion and plenty of intrigue to keep up the pace. I did feel that two kidnappings was somewhat repetitive and, of them both, Belle's ordeal was much more compelling.

There are some very good passages within this book, and a great many very engaging characters, but I would have liked to feel a little more of the attraction growing between Lord Atherton and Lady Rosalind. It sometimes felt as though their connection was overshadowed because the author was trying to accomplish so many things all at once. In a Regency romance the point of all the thrilling adventures should have been to draw them together at every turn (or cast them apart so that they might be reunited later on), yet there were times when it felt as though the various threads were not especially well entwined in the central plot. I had also expected Rosalind to be more central to countering the villainy, but after the initial promise her feisty nature seemed to wane.

It is a credit to the other characters that the titular heroine was actually my least favourite of them all. I wondered at first why I was struggling to like Rosalind, but as the story progressed the reason became clear. Rosalind is a bit of a Mary Sue; beautiful, liked by all who meet her, and adept at everything she turns a hand to - be it shooting, climbing, dancing, or flirting. Had she two left feet and less mesmerising eyes then it would have helped give her a little more depth. Perfection, as George observes in many of the Ton ladies who have tried to ensnare him, is often rather bland. Belle's vivacity and humour, Lucy's steadfastness, Lady Atherton's warmth, Sir Philip's kindness, Lord Preeve's good-naturedness, and Lord Atherton's wry wit more than make up for any deficits in Rosalind's character, though, and they are the people I would be happy to see return in future books in the Bachelor Brides series.

The narrator, Helen Taylor, has a lovely tone to her voice and is very pleasant to listen to. Her pace is a little slow but her female voices are all very good. I would have liked Lord Atherton's voice to have had more richness but it is always difficult for a single narrator to perform both sexes' parts, and personal preference is key. (I tend to prefer male-doing-female to female-doing-male, but know many with an opposing view on the matter.)

Despite this, the voice she gave to Lord Preeve reminded me very much of that which Caroline Hunt gives Mr Pommeroy in The Convenient Marriage, and displayed a comfortable familiarity with the period.

Her performance is very entertaining, with each character having a distinct voice and personality. My only complaint would be that there are lots of audible sounds of breath and swallowing, especially at the beginning, which can be problematic for some listeners (especially those enjoying the story via the intimacy of earbuds).

Whilst Hambly is certainly no Heyer, few reach the vertiginous heights of that particular bar, and it is a good deal more diverting than many of the Regency romances I come across. The focus upon the vengeful wrath of a 'gentleman scorned' tempered the predictability of the traditional formula, and made for a very enjoyable twist. Despite the one significant criticism I have about this story, I would listen to other Regency audiobooks by this author.

I think that this audiobook would appeal to other fans of Regency romance, especially those who are looking for some 'clean' excitement.

*I received this audiobook free of charge in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.

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