A Feather To Fly With by Joyce Harmon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Very few Regency romances can evoke Georgette Heyer these days as well as Joyce Harmon's "A Feather to Fly With." The heroine finds herself without said "feather" or funds and determines to swindle her way to financial success. She has no interest in marrying a fortune when she can get one by her wits, so she's a mystery to the members of the ton.
The reversal of typical romance roles with a savvy heroine and a somewhat clueless hero (at least socially clueless) was a nice twist. Arthur Ramsey, Duke of Winton, is worse than a rake (in terms of Beau Monde regency society); he is a scholar! He needs to find a wife, but hasn't a clue, so his friend Justin Amesbury helps him navigate the intricacies of a London season. This proves a challenging proposition, as Winton has been buried in his scientific studies and knows little of fashionable life. At one point, Justin suggests that Arthur send a book as a gift to a London beauty he is pursuing. Arthur's choice of reading material is "Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy" by Isaac Newton! Ultimately, the lady accepts the duke's proposal, much to Amesbury's chagrin: he realizes that he's in love with her. Is it too late?
Cleo Cooper is in London to effect a reversal of fortune for her family. Living overseas with her brother and her artist father, the family was swindled by an Englishman calling himself the Baron Marcuse. After their father's death, Cleo (named after Cleopatra) and her brother Han (Hannibal) return to London, hoping to find Marcuse, but he has disappeared. Nearly penniless, they make a plan to win a fortune by placing bets in Town on Newmarket horse races. Their insider information comes via Han's carrier pigeons. Han and Cleo dress as gypsies to attend the races, then send off the names of the winners to their accomplices in London. At one of the races, Arthur recognizes Cleo in disguise, having met her in Town after her aunt presents her to society. While the duke is shocked at her criminal activity, he admires her sharp mind and love of scientific inquiry. Meanwhile, Amesbury is certain that Cleo is a fortune hunter after Winton's money. There are loads of misunderstandings to be sorted out here, with plenty of amusing scenes along the way.
Readers of Heyer will enjoy the twists and turns that ensue as much as the secondary characters that add humor and depth to the romantic narrative. A particular favorite is the General, an amnesiac soldier that Cleo and Han rescued from a Spanish battlefield, near death. He becomes their servant and helps them through some scrapes.
This is an excellent contemporary regency, one of the best I've read. This is one of my favorite passages:
"At supper, she considered Winton and concluded that he was the most suitable of all her court of admirers. In addition to the things that impressed society, the title and the wealth, he was also handsome (though his friend Amesbury was handsomer, she had to admit). And he was a genuinely nice man. He was not a rank snob, as many of the nobility could be toward an untitled country squire's daughter. Nor was he arrogant, condescending, indifferent or cruel. He did not drink to excess and according to all reports, he didn't gamble at all. He was entirely ideal. Felicity only wished she understood what he was talking about."
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