Michèle Ann Young’s No Regrets features one of the most tantalizing opening sequences I’ve seen in ages, and a plot that borrows heavily from Georgette Heyer. (Hey, if you’re going to borrow your plot twists, it’s always smart to borrow from the best.) Despite these virtues, No Regrets is a disappointment—it’s a cut above the average bodice-ripper, but it never lives up to the promise of its first chapter.
Young’s heroine is a dowdy, overweight spinster named Caroline Torrington. Caroline’s not sure why her childhood friend, dashing rake Lucas Foxhaven, keeps proposing to her, but she darkly (and correctly) suspects that it has something to do with money. When Lucas finally makes her a marriage offer she can’t refuse, Caroline reluctantly consents—if he agrees to her list of demands: a London season, financial support for the rest of her life, and a quick divorce.
Like many Heyer imitators, Young makes the mistake of focusing too much on her hero and heroine, and too little on her supporting characters. (Heyer’s novels usually featured at least one solidly entertaining subplot in addition to the main romantic storyline.) But while Young’s book introduces several intriguing minor characters, 99% of No Regrets focuses on Caroline and Lucas, who endure enough disasters to fill up a dozen Heyer novels. These are reasonably compelling characters, but their melodramatic romance alone isn’t interesting enough to justify a nearly four-hundred-page-long book.
Laurie Brown’s Hundreds of Years To Reform a Rake, on the other hand, doesn’t imitate anybody. This highly original book ignores romance novel conventions, and while many of Ms. Brown’s ideas work, one wonders if such an unusual novel will appeal to fans of the genre.
Professional paranormal researcher Josie Drummond has been hired to prove that the ghost of Lord Deverell Thornton, the ninth Earl of Waite, haunts Waite Castle. (The castle’s impoverished owner needs an “official” ghost to turn the building into a tourist attraction.) But the spectral Earl has even bigger plans: he transports Josie back to the Regency era, hoping she’ll be able to debunk the swindlers that cost his family their fortune. Still reeling from her discovery of ghosts and time travel, Josie is horrified to discover that Deverell expects her to blend into in the complex Regency social scene. After all, waltzing, corsets, and fake spiritualists are bad enough without a handsome, bossy ghost criticizing her every move....
Hundreds of Years to Reform a Rake isn’t outstandingly humorous or erotic, but it is thoroughly researched. Tidbits of historical information appear on almost every page, many of them designed to strip away the romance associated with life in the early nineteenth century. Some of these factoids are worked naturally into the story (Josie discovers that crowded, deodorant-free Regency balls were sweaty, smelly affairs, and Deverell is under six feet—appropriately tall for his time, but a far cry from the usual strapping six-foot-four romantic hero.) Others are less well-suited to the story—there's a scene where the hero explains that many Regency dining rooms featured a chamber pot behind a screen, should someone require it during a dinner party. That may be true (I'm certainly not going to look it up), but it’s a jarring and unnecessary piece of information to find in a romance novel.
If you’re in the market for a different kind of historical romance, or you enjoy stories filled with period detail, Hundreds of Years to Reform a Rake is a solid bet. Ms. Brown’s book is far from perfect, but romance novels this unconventional are few and far between.