Valerie

Joan Smith
2007 reissue of 1981 release, Regency Romance
Robert Hale, $18.99, 224 pages, Amazon ASIN 9780709079224

Grade: B
Sensuality: Kisses

The price and ISBN above are valid at Robert Hale Publishing.

Robert Hale, an English publishing house, is reissuing old Traditional Regencies in hardback form. Joan Smith's Valerie was originally published in the States by Ivy in 1981; its heroine, and her unique voice, holds up very well.

Valerie is invited for an extended visit with her eccentric widowed Aunt Louise at her home, Troy Fenners. While Aunt Loo is genuinely fond of Valerie, she has an ulterior motive: she is in the middle of writing her new gothic romance and she needs a stand-in for her heroine who performs great feats of derring-do. Valerie, who is very tall woman - one could even call her Amazonian - is the perfect model for her heroine. During her visit, Aunt Loo will have Valerie perform these feats - jumping a horse over a tollbooth, carrying a man across a field, climbing a trellis up the side of a house, etc. - in order to make sure they can be done and to be able to write accurately about the heroine's experiences. Aunt Loo is a hoot. Valerie is just glad to get away from the house and her squabbling younger sisters. Besides, Valerie is on a husband hunt, and there are no good prospects in the neighborhood - she's ready to try her luck further afield.

Soon after their arrival at Troy Fenners, Valerie learns that things are not quite right. For some reason the very rich Aunt Loo seems to be short of money. There are two distant family connections through marriage in residence, a Frenchman, Pierre St. Claire, who has fled his homeland and now insists he is thoroughly English - "Call me Peter Sinclair. It is better. When at Rome, do like the Italians do, as we say in English." - and Welland Sinclair, a supposed scholar whose well-built physique and aura of command no amount of green-tinted glasses and stooping posture can hide. Add to the mix an amorous doctor and a sťance-holding medium and you have an interesting cast of characters with plenty of secrets to unravel.

Valerie is a unique heroine. She has a mind of her own and is not at all shy about getting what she wants. She does this without coming off as pushy or feisty, and that is due to the strength of her voice. The novel is written in first person and all is filtered through Valerie's voice and perspective - and it is a fun voice and perspective. She has a wry sense of humor, especially about herself and her Amazonian tendencies - though she likes to think of herself as more of a lioness - and is ready to nab a husband: "If I ever find a man I like who is over six feel tall, I shall have him."

Welland seems a likely candidate, though he is definitely not what he seems. We don't get a very clear picture of Welland as we discover his secrets along with Valerie, so this makes him a bit of a cipher. One thing is certain, though: he is quite taken with Valkyrie Valerie.

It is the delightful writing that makes this such an enjoyable reading experience, though, because of the first-person aspect, and the fact that a few too many secrets were held on to for a bit too long, I also experienced a bit of frustration.

While I enjoyed Valerie and was glad to have the opportunity to read it, I have mixed emotions about recommending it. I applaud Robert Hale's efforts to bring old Trads to a new audience, but at £19 a pop ($38 US), I cannot see how these books can be affordable to the average reader - especially when you can find the 1981 edition used at Amazon for $2.50.

-- Cheryl Sneed

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