The Famous Heroine (This DIK review was written by a reader)
1996, Regency Romance
Signet, $4.99, Amazon ASIN 0451187733 Part of a series
Mary Balogh's The Famous Heroine is an amusingly lighthearted Regency romance. The author manages to imbue her witty writing with some surprising and moving emotional intensity and has written wonderfully well-rounded characters to boot.
The author gives the hero and heroine elbow room to define themselves and their growing feelings for one another. There are no misunderstandings, jealous mistresses, evil villains, or dysfunctional relationships to clutter up the plot, which is spare and clean. There is simply a budding friendship and romance which must be carefully nurtured in order to blossom.
Best of all is the refreshing hilarity that practically jumps off of every page and makes The Famous Heroine my all-time favorite romance.
"What a deliciously frightful young lady", thinks Lord
Francis Knellor of Miss Cora Downes the first time he meets her. Her first reaction at the sight of him was not much better: ". . . her eyes lit up with unholy amusement".
Hardly an auspicious beginning for any romance, but it was certainly a memorable meeting for this unlikely couple.
Cora, the daughter of a wealthy Bristol merchant, inadvertently becomes the protégé of the formidable Duchess of Bridgwater after she "saves" the Duchess' grandson from drowning. The grateful matron takes Cora under her wing and decides to bring her out during the London season to find her a respectable husband. Painfully awkward in most social situations, Cora is out of her element until she meets Lord Francis. Finally, she thinks, she has found someone from amongst the ton whom she finds completely unthreatening. She is actually quite amused with him, especially the way he dresses, quite understandably since he favors bright colored fabrics that seem to bring peacocks to mind.
Lord Francis, likewise, is amused and slowly becoming entranced with his new acquaintance. He finds Cora refreshingly candid and natural and is extremely attracted to her. She, however, doesn't pick up on this attraction. Since he is nursing a broken heart, he decides he is only interested in making her fashionable enough for the ton and perhaps in helping her find a suitable husband. Fortunately for all concerned, his intentions go awry.
Instead, Francis and Cora find themselves in an extremely compromising situation which forces them into a marriage which neither one believes they want. Each is determined enough to want to make their marriage work. Their wedding night is pricelessly funny and quite unlike any other I've read. Because of the outlandish way he dresses and his unfailing gentlemanly conduct, Cora has made the assumption that Francis is homosexual and does not expect a "real" marriage. That of course, could be nothing further from the truth. He is in fact immensely attracted to his wife, so much so that the "act" is over almost before it begins: "Like a schoolboy with his first woman, he thought when thought returned after a few seconds of oblivion." Cora, misunderstanding, reassures him: "You do not have to pretend for me. I understand."
It is not until the next day that the couple realize that Cora has made a mistake. Francis finds the situation hilarious: "Only Cora could possibly have come up with such a preposterous theory. And she had married him believing it." They clear up the misunderstanding, and their married life begins on an especially high note but is complicated by Francis' still very real feelings for his lost love. Although he is very happy with his marriage and has a deep affection for his wife, he still believes himself to be in love with the woman he lost.
It is only after several months have gone by, and Francis meets his lost love again that his feelings are resolved and he begins to let go of the past and embrace his future with Cora. It is not an earth shattering revelation but a rather realistic acknowledgment of the deep love he now accepts he feels for Cora. It is a satisfyingly happy ending that ends with the reader’s conviction that Francis and Cora love and laughed together forever.
The Famous Heroine touched me with its humor, loveable lead characters, and the details author Mary Balogh is famous for both in her Regency romances and her longer historicals. Read it - it's a good thing.
-- Dalia Hedfi
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