Talk of the Ton

Mary Nichols
May 2008, European Historical Romance (1820s England)
Harl Historical #236, $5.99, 275 pages, Amazon ASIN 0373305451
Part of a series

Grade: C
Sensuality: Kisses

Talk of the Ton is one of this month's two mail-order-only titles (two are published each month) this month by Harlequin Historicals. I've discovered some wonderful treasures among these releases. Unfortunately, weak characters and a somewhat hollow plot prevent this novel adding to that group. It is not a bad read, but neither does it excel.

Miss Elizabeth Harley, her mother, and her younger sister Olivia depend upon the generosity of her ducal uncle for their living and for the girls' launch into Society. Elizabeth adores her country existence and would happily work alongside the steward's son forever. However, now that her younger sister has also reached the age to enter Society, Elizabeth's mother wishes to marry off both of them.

Elizabeth has no wish to go to London and ensnare a rich husband, but she also has little choice in the matter. Through a series of events that I will leave readers to discover, Elizabeth finds herself wandering alone on the docks in London. A feisty heroine? Now, why would one ask that question? At any rate, Andrew Melhurst, newly returned from India, finds her and rescues her in time to potentially save her reputation.

After delivering Elizabeth to her uncle in London, Andrew finds himself haunted by the memory of his meeting with Elizabeth. They meet again and again in London, and Andrew finds himself drawn into the sisters' circle. Andrew had offered himself for Elizabeth should marriage be necessary to save her reputation, but the Duke rebuffed the offer. Elizabeth herself alternates between thinking of Andrew and determining that she should have nothing to do with him.

Elizabeth and Andrew dither endlessly. While there are misconceptions and conflicts between them, one earnest talk would have cleared the air on most of these. Unfortunately for the reader, our hero and heroine do not rush to have that chat. Instead, Elizabeth behaves like the 19th century equivalent of a despondent, dramatic teen storming about the house. While Elizabeth holds off on facing her emotions in mature fashion, we are treated to the usual social whirl spiced up a tad by the antics of Elizabeth's ditzy, horse-obsessed sister.

Were it not for the fact that Andrew and most of the secondary characters actually are decent sorts, I would never have made it through this book. However, the author does a good job of using her secondary characters for more than scenery and they do much to carry the book. In addition, the story starts to pull together better and Elizabeth begins to grow up a little by the second half of the book, making for a more entertaining read.

Unlike many of the Regency-set historicals I have read in recent years, Talk of the Tonactually makes use of historical events (the coronation of George IV in this case) in ways that make the events integral to the characters' lives and the story. This use of history gives the book a richer flavor than it otherwise would have had. While the novel does have its bright spots, it still felt average overall. I think I will have to explore future Harlequin Historicals offerings instead.

-- Lynn Spencer

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