A Very Strange Guest at a Regency House Party
What an odd little book! I was at first taken in by a good description of the London docks in Regency England and was intrigued at the idea of having a heroine whose family was decidedly middle class and on the skids. Beatrice and her merchant ship owner father live on the bad side of town in a squalid little house. But then it got weird…
After that opening, we are abruptly taken to a carriage ride heading to a house party in the country. Beatrice is accompanying her best friend, Marina, a newly minted viscountess, and her husband. Beatrice is meant to be a guest of her friend’s, but for whatever reason, Beatrice feels like she must “pay her way” during the party and offers her services in the kitchen to the housekeeper when that lady shows Beatrice to her room. Huh? The housekeeper only questions her abilities, not her desire to do so. The lord of the manor doesn’t really seem to question this either, and Beatrice becomes the caretaker for the ailing dowager countess…all while the party is going on. Honestly, it feels like a plot device to ingratiate Beatrice into the earl’s inner circle; if the author wanted Beatrice to become the dowager’s caretaker … there had to be a more realistic way.
Beatrice demands a room in the servants’ quarters (not the guest wing where she had been put); she turns down the offer of proper servant’s clothing because she prefers to wear her threadbare clothes, not wanting to feel beholden to the earl for clothing(?!). She goes so far as to work in the kitchen as well as take care of the earl’s mother, pushing herself to the physical brink. Oh, my! What guest at a Regency house party would do this? Too, I would think her friend would be a little miffed that Beatrice would choose to be a servant of the house instead of enjoying her time with her as a guest–as intended. (Interestingly, Marina didn’t seem to really notice until two weeks into the house party when she mentions to Beatrice that she hasn’t seen her much!)
Besides this aspect of the plot, there were other oddities as well. At one point, Beatrice is referred to as a Lady … yes, with a capital “L.” A marquess suddenly shows up as a rather intimate friend of the earl at the 30% mark–and a couple of weeks into the house party. He was just called “the Marquess,” so I couldn’t pair him up with any other character. It was eventually revealed. Another oddity that made my eyebrows shoot up to the ceiling was when the earl told Beatrice (about his mother’s ailments): “Her symptoms are very severe and fatal at times, but there are good days.” Again, oh, my! How does one have occasionally fatal symptoms? Reminded me of the Rowan Atkinson sketch called “Fatal Beatings.”
At the quarter mark (often Act 1 in stories), a sinister element was added to the mix that really wasn’t led up to properly; it wasn’t a natural turning point of the main romantic plot either. And I never did figure out how the title of the book was relevant.
All in all, this story was just odd. I actually kept reading it just to see what other strange things would happen.
I received a free advance copy of this book, but–obviously–this did not affect my review