Regency Press, $5.99, ISBN 1-929085-00-1
Historical Romance, 1999
This is an anthology of – count them – fifteen short stories set in Regency England, most by first-time-in-print authors. I must admit the quality can be uneven, and there is a lamentable overemphasis on the “woman bent on getting out of arranged marriage finds true love” angle, but all in all, it’s a great read, this sampler.
Oh, and this anthology isn’t all romance though. There’s some paranormal tales as well as one purely military intrigue one.
Beth Andrews kicked off the sampler with her The Christmas Bride. It’s a sweet, funny story whose shortcoming is that dang, it’s just too short! Lord Denham is befuddled when a pretty woman barges into his house and tells him off for letting his niece languish in an abusive aunt’s care. Everyone’s happy and is one happy family just in time for Christmas, however. The short length makes Denham’s (very) quick falling in love a tad too unbelievable, but like they say, it’s Christmas, so who cares?
Just Like Old Times by Karl Richards is a wartime reminisce between old buddies, relating some clever trick they play on those French scums. Unfortunately, the author fumbles, probably due to word count limits, and the story ends up like one of those boring monologues everyone skips in college.
Belvedere is a bittersweet story by Jo Manning about a spinster woman’s stumbling in a faerie-populated garden. It’s a powerful story, about the spinster’s frustrations at her lot. Juliana’s one sole moment of bliss is when she lets herself be compromised by a suitor, and now, reduced to an unwanted burden on her brother, she doesn’t know how unhappy she is until the faeries play a trick on her. And the end has me pitying her as well as feeling for her. Can Ms Manning write a full length story about this woman?
Susan McDuffie’s An Unusual Correspondence is one of the finest contributions in this anthology. It details a series of letters between two women – a happily married woman and her friend who is about to marry a very cruel and abusive man. There’s a mystery in here too, and I’m still not sure if there is a satisfactory “case closed” scenario by the end. This isn’t a romance as much as a mystery, but it’s one engaging and fabulous read.
Sandra Heath’s Neptune’s Quizzing Glass is memorable for featuring a half-mermaid heroine, but the heroine is too silly for words. Nina C Davis’s short story A Singular Woman has an interracial romance between a Black courtesan and a nobleman, but unfortunately the author couldn’t make the romance believable. Sheri Cobb South’s The Wicked Waltz is also fun but again too short to be believable.
Everything else seems to be a blur of the “heroine in unwanted marriage” variety, and after two of them, I start to have a hard time telling them apart. Anne Woodley’s The Dancing Master is most memorable for my disappointment that the heroine isn’t the funny witty younger sister but the boring too-proper elder girl. Sigh.
On one hand, A Regency Sampler is packed with light, fun stories that make a great way to spend an afternoon on. It also reveals this annoying way of many new authors’ tendency to ape the same old plot and same old characters, however, but I’ll save that rant for a less entertaining book.