Mills & Boon, £4.99, ISBN 978-0-263-91719-9
Historical Romance, 2016
Lady Jane March is a widow who is content to enjoy a quiet life after the death of her husband, whom she married for love. She has a tidy amount of money, and her stepfather, a newly minted duke, dotes on her mother and has no qualms being very generous to his beloved wife’s kids. Therefore, Jane is content to wait for another Mr Right to show up before she marries again. In the meantime, she is staying with her beloved brother, and when he asks her to act as a chaperon for a young lady whom he hopes to marry in the near future (the girl’s aunt is increasing), Jane is happy to oblige.
The girl, Amelia “Melia” Bellingham, has always wanted to see London and find a nice titled beau, but so far circumstances after circumstances have conspired to keep her trapped unhappily in the country with an aunt who does not appreciate her dream of seeing what the city is like. Therefore, when Jane’s brother Will invites her to come to town, and he’s also arranged for his sister to act as chaperon, it’s like her dreams are finally coming true. Thus, when her guardian, one “Cousin Paul”, wrote that she’s to stay in the countryside a while longer while he arranges for her to stay with some friend of his in town, she decides to “forget” about telling him that she’s already going to London.
Thus, our hero Paul Frant has no choice but to contact Jane by letters and later call on her in London once he discovers Melia’s absconding to London. To his surprise, Jane is a captivating lady, a far cry from the chilly old hag that he envisioned from her rather forbidding letters to him. As for our hero, he once served in India, where he gained some prestigious favours from the royalty when he saved a princess, and he’s not sure whether he’d like to go back there or stay in London. Jane is, predictably enough, a strong reason for him to opt for London.
Meanwhile, he spurned the amorous attention of a powerful lady back in India, and she ordered one of her besotted playthings to go to London and kill Paul. Will this nefarious plot succeed? (Please don’t tell me you thought even for a second that the answer would be yes.)
Claiming the Chaperon’s Heart has a quaint and charming traditional Regency vibe, and it is actually refreshing to read about Paul and his male buddies who, for once, are not dissolute rakes but rather, gentlemen with manners and what not. Men in this story have honorable intentions when it comes to the women they are courting, there are no “manly seductions”, nothing that one normally expects in a historical romance set in 19th-century London that is published these days. Thus, this one may be a bit old school, but I like it – this story has an idealistic gallantry that appeals to me. Both Jane and Paul are sensible fellows in many ways, and I wish I like them more.
I said “I wish” because the author is so in love with information dumping that this book can be quite the chore to wade through. Every character that shows up here needs to have his or her backstory narrated, and this information dumping is basically plopped into the narrative like an elephant leaving behind its dropping most gracelessly right on the page – any momentum up to that point is immediately killed as a result. To be fair, the character that gets the information dump is relevant to the story, but I’m sure there are better ways to share the character’s backstory instead of just going “Woosh!” all at once. Also, these characters love to go on and on, too, explaining their backstories and character motivations to other characters, and this approach is perplexing because these characters are supposed to be best friends or close family members. So, why are they going on and on in detail about things that the other person should have already known? The author is doing this for the sake of the reader, of course, but it’s a most contrived and inelegant way of doing things, and I really wish she has taken another approach.
Once the information dumping is out of way, about two thirds of the book have passed, so I don’t blame any reader who gives up on this book long before that point. Readers who persevered up to this point also have another issue to contend with: these characters are so proper that a lot of drama happens because they are too polite to talk about these “unsavory” things. Paul and Jane make a lot of assumptions about other secondary characters, more often than not worsening the situation when a little more support and understanding could have placated these characters a bit. Perhaps such “proper” behavior is accurate for people of that time, but I suspect some readers won’t be so understanding of such antics.
Still, not everything is bad here. I really like how the author allows most of the secondary characters, the ones that would be considered “villains” under other circumstances, to have some depths. That silly young girl, for example, could have been portrayed as some evil, selfish skank but here, the author chooses to show me that the girl is just a silly little thing who could use some growing up. While most authors will cheerfully consign female villains to perfidy due to the low sequel value of such characters, I like how the author is democratic in giving both the male and female “villains” enough shades of humanity to make them more complicated than the usual romance novel villains.
Also, Jane and Paul are really sweet together, without the usual contrivances like the ever-popular “I’ll have sex with you but I will NEVER marry you!” nonsense. And as I’ve mentioned, I like how these characters go through the whole courtship routine without being typically jaded, cynical, or emo like many of their counterparts in other historical romances.
This one, therefore, is a tough one to grade. Claiming the Chaperon’s Heart can be a pain in the rear end to read when it comes to all the dreary exposition, backstories, and polite little misunderstanding that further drums up the drama, but the author also marches to her own beat in an old school way that is charming. I think I’d give this three oogies, as it is an okay read at the end of the day, but I’d also say that readers should at the same time approach this one with caution. The author’s writing style is not for everyone!