Paperback: 13: 9781606190401
Women of this century, at least American women, have freedoms visited on us that women from other countries, other centuries, do not share, and could hardly imagine, just as we can hardly imagine lives less free. Why do we wish to read about hardship when we (contemporary women, that is, and men for that matter too) can virtually choose our future, at least we can, technically, if we have the brains, money, sense and other resources to get the education to sustain us? Yet we long to borrow the sense of another time—how it feels to live by a different social order, even to be a different self. The allure of the bygone day may have to do with the fact that we do not have to experience firsthand the grisly details of eighteenth century medicine, pre-industrial age toilet paper, unheated bathwater, and outdoor plumbing, and are able to enjoy such stories through a hazy and forgiving veil of romance.
So it is this improbable veil that I am hoping to lift when I open the pages of Lady Runaway; and in the beginning it proves to be a wojep (woman in jeopardy) story with a common scenario: The orphaned daughter with no remaining close family is forced by straitened circumstances to find employment as a teacher or governess. In our heroine’s case, Riana—Lady Travistock— is also escaping the unwanted courtship of the appropriately named and thoroughly despicable Sir Hector Stalkings, whom she has left with a knot on his head, while she flees to Canada and the Wentworth Academy for Young Ladies. Instead of continuing successfully to her destination, she is waylaid by a deceptively helpful procurer by the name of Cynthia Sydebottom, collected for a client Sidebottom referred to as the "gov." By this point, our heroine is introducing herself as Annie Davidson, appropriating her cousin's last name. You can guess who the guv is.
One misstep leads to another, and an escape from Sydebottom into an alley leads to an altercation with a couple of thieves and the timely acquaintance with physician/military hero/captain/baron's son (yes, he is all of these things) Dev Carrington, with a sore-headed Hector Stalkings not far behind.
Our hero Carrington has his own demons: his status in the ton as a baron's third son, nightmares from his military service, and the conditional encumbrance of inheriting the Bridgemore estate, and the pending the noose of matrimony with a woman whose family once rejected him for being not high enough on the social scale. Complicate this further with "Annie" becoming his patient—a toothsome patient carrying around a stash of possibly stolen jewels and weaving a web of lies to obfuscate her identity—and Carrington is destined to have difficulty figuring out that identity, much less finding the opportunity to live up to his potential as hero.
All of the elements of a romance are on the page. I don't know if it is because I am too read in romance, or because all I do is write and edit, but I could predict from one page to the next exactly what was going to happen. I know that is not uncommon in genre; predictability is what defines genre as a whole. Within the boundaries of cliché and convention and the predictable steps of story, in a romance I need to feel an emotional connection with the characters, and for me this factor just did not quite bloom to its full potential in Lady Runaway. As every reader is not reading to find the next Heathcliff, Mr. Rochester or even the warped alpha Allegreto, I feel compelled to preface my conclusions with an emphasis of my own bias. I most prefer historicals with ponderous realism and emotional intensity, and this has neither. I did not feel much sense of time or place. Admittedly there is an appeal of a lighter sort. I noted here and there a glimmer of the author's humor, such as when Riana herself "didn't think it could be good for one's heart to race madly this often." Maybe not, but if my heart had raced a little more (and I'm not referring to erotica but an emotional connection with the characters), I would have enjoyed this book a lot more. But a decent light Regency, for all that.