Review: Regency by Megan Derr

Review by Hayden Thorne

BOOK DESCRIPTION:
Four short stories and one novella with a regency flavor. A lazy prince and his stiff secretary have long despised each other, but the annual Masque changes everything. Gideon has always led a quiet life, free of scandal, until a carriage accident on his way home one night. Pierce has everything a young man could want – except the secret admirer he knows only through ardent letters. Jude is a notorious rake, but desperately bored…until during a chance encounter he impulsively offers lessons in seduction to an innocent young man. Bartholomew sees a chance to prove himself when his home is terrorized by a Highwayman – but the robber he encounters is nothing like what he imagined.

REVIEW:
I must confess that I’m rather puzzled by the book’s title since the stories themselves aren’t at all what one would expect in a historical collection. The book page on Lulu notes a “Regency flavor,” but whatever historical elements there are in the stories are so generic that they can easily be regarded as faintly Victorian just as they are faintly Regency. If anything, the collection of stories seems to be a hybrid of fantasy and contemporary with only a mild dash of historical fiction.

The first half of the book is comprised of short stories and the second half a novella, and all of them are in one way or another linked to each other. There are recurring characters that help carry the events over from one story to the next, which I think is a really clever approach. Instead of a collection of wildly diverging events, we’re given a string of romances, each segueing smoothly into the next.

Derr also writes in a strong voice that nicely catches your attention and holds it. That, in addition to the “narrative string approach” (for lack of a better term) to her book, however, doesn’t save it from a low rating.

To reiterate what I noted at the beginning – the book isn’t a historical despite the marketing tags used. Firstly, there’s absolutely no indication of place or even a specific point during the Regency that could firmly fix the events into a believable historical period. When one hears “Regency,” the first thing that often comes to mind is “England.” The stories, however, show no signs of anything English, despite the liberal use of “bloody” (as in “bloody hell”) and “pish posh” and a few antiquated turns of phrase that are distinctively English. Dialogue-wise, the characters sound more like American actors in fancy clothes, speaking in modern vernacular (there’s use of “Dad,” “Daddy,” and “snuck,” for instance) with a few English terms thrown in for period effect. What that achieves, though, is clumsy dialogue that at times sounds stilted and forced.

There are references to cravats, masques, gowns, carriages, tea, and so on, but they’re never detailed or given some degree of authenticity that would separate them from any other historical period. The Georgian and Victorian periods were all defined by the same things, after all (one more so than the other regarding different items). Factual errors bog the stories down in addition to the vagueness of period detail. In the first story, there’s a reference to tea as something that’s cultivated and blended in a temple somewhere north of the prince’s palace (the prince here being someone who’s not England’s Prince Regent). If these stories are, indeed, set in England, tea should have been imported from India and China.

The prince in the first story isn’t the Prince Regent, and all the stories, while addressing the scandalous nature of homosexual relationships, resort to extremes of OK Homo, which forced me to shift my perspective of the book from historical to fantasy. If the book were intended to be an Alternate History, there still should be specific indications of location and time against which we can compare the changes made in the actual historical events. If these stories were intended to be Alternate History, it would certainly make it understandable when two men publicly dance with each other as well as kiss each other not once, but twice in front of a crowd – yes, even in a masque. Again, there are no firm indications of an altered time in history, so as works of historical fiction, public displays of homosexual attraction are plain impossible.

The individual stories themselves certainly have a lot of potential though the writer depends too much on cliché, archetypes, and predictability. Secret admirers and misunderstandings tend to be pretty easy to figure out, and sometimes (as in the case of the first story) the character dynamics are exaggerated to lengths that strain credibility. The prince, for instance, and his secretary hate each other and verbally abuse each other, with their exchanges turning more and more cartoon-like in their over-the-top drama.

“Highness,” he said in a carefully level tone, “I know it’s difficult for you to do anything but sleep, eat, and rut, but you are one of the highest peers of the realm. Do try to act like it from time to time.”

“Then who would you harass and insult to death? I must give you something to do, since apparently you cannot even read a list of names without my assistance.”

“Damn it, Highness!” Rae slammed his hands down on the table, making the dishes rattle and his tea splash over the side of the delicate cup and onto the fine white linen table cloth. “I am an assistant, not a nursemaid. If you are going to be useless and insufferable, then take yourself off back to your bed and whores!”

Would a nobleman suffer himself to be treated that way by his secretary? While I could see Derr’s purpose in establishing a volatile foundation for a romance, the reasons given for each character (especially the nobleman) putting up with each other’s BS (as well as plans of revenge) are unconvincing, given the intensity of each other’s hatred of each other.

Regency is a very disappointing read overall. With her obvious talents, though, Derr is certainly capable of writing stories that better reflect her abilities.

Buy the book: Lulu.com, Amazon.com, Amazon UK (no link available)

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