Saturday, August 11, 2012
Review: A Christmas Gambol by Joan Smith (5 stars, traditional)
Full Description: Amazon
Rating: 5 out of 5
Thoughts After Reading:
Best. Traditional. Ever. Okay, that might not be true - there are many amazing books out there. But if Joan Smith's A Christmas Gambol isn't my favorite traditional regency, it certainly ranks up there. A Christmas Gambol is composed of gentle romance between a couple that really isn't expecting it, with a storyline that is both highly entertaining and uniquely told. Best of all, it manages to include frequently hilarity without becoming remotely like a farce. It's probably the only book that has ever caused me to laugh at the climax of the romance conflict, while - simultaneously - feel anxious to see how it will be resolved.
At a point in the story, the hero imagines a book character based on the heroine: "a country girl, green as grass, but bossy, opinionated, interfering, intelligent, managing." And that's a decent description of the heroine. She's a young woman (twenty years old) who's nearly always demonstrates her quick mind and competence, but who also starts out with very little knowledge of London life. She frequently blurts out the first thing to come to mind, which does come across as rude at times. The heroine ultimately has a good nature, though, to go along with her lively character. One of the more appealing aspects of the heroine is that she's not hunting for a husband, but she's not really opposed to it either. The way she sees it, it would be great if she found a man who lived up to her expectations... but her primary goal in life is getting her book published. The hero, meanwhile, is a surprisingly responsible gentleman. He's titled, of course, but happens to spend the majority of his time working in the house of lords, rather than idly carousing. As these stories tend to go, the sophisticated hero initially feels rather superior to the country miss that is the heroine. He doesn't say anything out loud, but it's obvious from his thoughts. It's only over a significant period of time that he comes to value the heroine's innate spunk, intelligence, and beauty.
At the beginning of the story, the reader finds out that the hero recently wrote a gothic romance novel to pass the time while recovering from a leg injury, as well as a way to vent his frustration at a woman who jilted him. He published it by pretending it was the work of a female cousin, and donated all of the proceeds to charity. The publishers want to meet the author for a dinner, so the hero needs a woman to pretend the author. The hero's sister suggests the heroine, an old friend of hers, so he goes to ask her, pretending it was truly written by an aunt. The heroine found the gothic novel to be absolutely ridiculous, and has no trouble letting her thoughts known. However, she likes the idea of being able to promote her own book as well as experiencing London for a few days. She takes him up on his offer and moves into his sister's house. From there, the story takes off. The heroine is eager to explore all the London has to offer... as material for future books, notably the slums and Bedlam. She's also morbidly fascinated by the flirtations, adultery, greed, gossip, and everything else that is related to the dark side of London society, although she's too intelligent to be sucked in the debauchery herself. The heroine also has quite a bit of fun teasing the hero, as well as setting into place a few well-meaning schemes (such as bringing together estranged couples). All of the minor characters in the book seem to be a bit "silly" in their own way - for example, even the married men have a tendency to the have lecherous feelings toward the heroine. However, it all adds to the enjoyment of the novel as the heroine sets the straying husbands straight - straight back to their wives, that is. The hero, meanwhile, initially has trouble recognizing the feelings he's developing regarding the heroine - primarily possessiveness and jealousy. He comes to value the heroine's outspoken honesty and strong set of morals, and he's always trying to make sure her personality remains unspoiled. Their relationship was often humorous, but there was also a level of closeness that genuinely develops between the two characters that made the romance seem quite plausible. The final romance conflict, while significant, was blessedly free of mistrust or angst.
Joan Smith's A Christmas Gambol is a very fun book. It contains a unique spin on the concept of a worldly gentleman being dazzled by an outspoken, country miss, with an engaging tale and a theme involving Regency era authors, stuffy book critics, and the like. It was very appealing to find the book included a great deal of humor without other parts of the book - such as the romance subplot - suffering. A Christmas Gambol was, in short, is a novel I thoroughly enjoyed and would not hesitate to recommend. If Smith's regencies are all this good, I'm going to have to read the entire collection.