The Diabolical Baron
by Mary Jo Putney, regency (1999, reissue)
Onyx, $5.99, ISBN 0-451-15042-2

This is Mary Jo Putney's first ever historical and I'm very impressed. It's really good. The writing is almost lyrical and reading this, even on a subway train home, is like being absorbed in a wonderful play of words. I still cannot believe this is her first book!

Now, I don't usually read Regencies as I prefer a little spice in my romances. And this reissue has no rewriting by the author to add in any love scenes, so be warned that the closest thing to nirvana in The Diabolical Baron is kisses and good relationships.

The Baron in question is one Jason Kincaid, Baron Radford, who is considered the most splendid of the Season. Out of obligation, he decides to get married and has his friend list twenty or so names of plain, malleable woman on pieces of paper, toss them into a hat and the lucky winner picked at random would be his wife. The winner in question is shy, mousy Caroline Hanscombe who is terrified of Jason. She is coerced into marriage by her parents, however, using a silly threat that demonstrates what a martyr Caroline is. These two mismatched people and their family and hanger-ons visit the country where in comes Captain Richard Davernport, long-lost heir to the Davenport estates. Caroline and Richard find themselves attracted to each other, Caroline's aunt Jessica and Jason find themselves ex-lovers now rekindling their flame... oh dear.

Readers of the sequel (sort of) The Rake (now that's a classic!) will know by now Caroline and Richard get their happy ending. So no worry there. The fun is watching the attraction grow. Miss Putney is a gifted writer so I find myself totally absorbed in the story, smiling here, chuckling there, and generally enjoying myself.

Only when I reflect on this wonderful book do I realize Caroline is a depressingly passive heroine. She never does anything. She is just there. I don't even realize Richard is a depressingly perfect hero. No, it is a testimony to Ms Putney's skill that I, for one, find perfection and passivity totally wonderful reading material.

Not exactly on par with the author's later better books, nonetheless for a first book, this is very good. And it is even more a pleasure to read this and realize Miss Putney's current writing style has come a long, long way from being good to sheer perfection.

Rating: 69

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