I’m 54 years old. I mention this because I came of age as a reader long before the YA publishing explosion. Someone, astutely, realized that there was a lot of money to be made in marketing books directly to young adults (especially young women), which has spawned a hugely successful boom in YA lit.
However, back when I was a tween, in the late 1970’s, it was pretty much Nancy Drew, Lois Duncan and Judy Blume. Once a girl outgrew those authors, it was time to move onto greener pastures. In my case, the greener pastures were my parent’s bookshelves. My dad was a fan of espionage, which meant Helen MacInnes and Len Deighton, and my mom had a weakness for gothic romance, like Phyllis Whitney and Victoria Holt. At some point, she also picked up an omnibus edition of Clare Darcy’s regency romances.
I can’t be sure that this is the edition that I read, although those are the three books it contained, and I’m pretty sure that it is. I read the book into tatters. I really don’t remember which of the three that I liked the best, but Clare Darcy was my gateway drug to Georgette Heyer and, even, to Jane Austen. I remember reading, and rereading, and rereading again.
A few years ago, I noticed that a lot of backlist authors that I had read as a girl were publishing their books for the kindle. I’m a kindle user, and while I understand the issues with Amazon, and I do still very consciously buy books from non-Amazon sources, A lot of these backlist books are most readily available on kindle.
In 2011, Sourcebooks published most, if not all, of Georgette Heyer’s backlist for kindle, and then put them on sale in August, 2011, for her birthday, for $1.99 each. I bought 50 of them while they were on sale, which was $100.00 that I have never regretted spending. I’ve been reading through them for the last 9 years.
This all triggered my memory of that old, tattered, omnibus edition that I had read as a young teen and I climbed down the internet rabbithole to see if I could find it. I didn’t remember the author’s name, but I did remember the names of the books because, in particular, Lydia and Georgina remind me of Pride and Prejudice. After some searching, I was able to track down the name of the author and I checked to see if her books were available for kindle. They were not. I continued to check back from time to time, until this week.
Which brings me to the triple-play. It looks as though all of Clare Darcy’s backlist has been digitized and is available to borrow from the Kindle Unlimited library. After the aha moment, I borrowed three of them and began reacquainting myself.
The first one I read was Lydia, which I thought I remembered from the book. The titular main character is a young American who has arrived in London for the season, with the express intention of catching herself a wealthy husband.
Lydia is the heir of Sophy, from Heyer’s The Grand Sophy. She’s a bit madcap, as well as bright and frank about her ambitions. Her family is well-connected, but poor, and she is the only one with the ability to restore their fortunes. The love-interest, Lord Northover, is nice enough. There are a lot of regency tropes, but it’s an enjoyable, and even adorable, read.
Next up was Cressida, which features a slightly older hero and heroine. Cressida was jilted by Rossiter when she was just a dreamy, unsophisticated girl because they were both poor. Six years later, they are both rich – she has inherited a packet from an aunt, and he made a fortune with Napoleon’s defeat.
I liked the characters, but I found the reliance on the misunderstanding trope to be somewhat annoying. There is also a cartoon villain who is trying to ruin a young charge of Cressida’s that is straight out of Heyer. I haven’t read Bath Tangle, but several of the reviews argue that this one is basically the same plot.
Last up was Lettice, or Letty. This one takes place mostly in Vienna, which is a nice change from most regencies which take place in London. Letty is the most ingenue of all of the heroines and enters the story when she flees from marriage to Mr. Sludge and is rescued by Harry. She has a notable singing voice, so Harry, who has a reputation for being a disreputable card cheat, swoops in and carries her off to Vienna to restore his fortunes.
You can guess what happens next.
Again, I enjoyed this one. I did notice more issues with the digitizing process with this one – in particular, Letty was sometimes rendered as Lefty, which is an unfortunate, but hysterically funny, error, since Lefty brings to my mind the cauliflower-eared villain of a noir mystery as opposed to the slender, adorably innocent heroine of a regency romance.
So, what’s my verdict from this walk down nostalgia lane? Darcy isn’t as good as Heyer – her characterizations are slighter and she’s making use of the tropes that someone else perfected. But regency romance is a genre with well-defined conventions, and she’s playing by the rules. Overall, I enjoyed them even if I was ready to move on after finishing Letty. These are fast reads – I tore through all three of them in less than 7 hours. However, given that they are free, I’m confident that when the time is right for something that is frothy and as insubstantial as a soap bubble, I will turn to Clare Darcy again.