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Sunita's Best of 2010 Review: Emily and the Dark Angel by...

In the spirit of better-late-than-never reviews, here is one of my favorite books of 2010.

Dear Ms. Beverley,

Before there were Mallorens, before there were Rogues, there was the Daffodil Dandy. You are justly renowned for your ability to create a fully realized world inhabited by characters across multiple books, but readers who love your historicals are not always familiar with the Regency world you created in the 1980s and 1990s. Linked together by the inscrutable, yellow-clad character of Kevin Renfrew, your early Regencies conform to the standards of the genre but invest the characters and the setting with a depth and richness which few other authors and series have been able to match. The books were published in hardcover and are available in some public libraries, but used paperback copies can be hard to find and expensive, so when I heard that the six novels in the series were being reissued in trade paper and ebook formats, I was thrilled. The reissues began in 2008 with a 2-in-1 edition entitled Lovers and Ladies, which comprised The Fortune Hunter and Deirdre and Don Juan. In 2009 Lord Wraybourne’s Betrothed, the first of the series, was reissued, and then in 2010 the last three reissues were released, culminating with Emily and the Dark Angel in October. While Deirdre and Don Juan is probably my favorite of the set, Emily and the Dark Angel is arguably the strongest novel of the six, although I encourage fans of your other work and of Regency trads to read all of them, in order, and to hunt out a copy of the short story in the series, “If Fancy Be the Food Of Love”.

Emily And The Dark Angel By Jo Beverley Emily and the Dark Angel is set in Melton Mowbray, the famous seat of English fox hunting and the home of the Quorn Hunt. Emily Grantwich is trying to keep the family estate together under trying circumstances. Her father is an invalid, suffering injuries in a misguided, tragicomic duel with a neighbor, and her brother, the heir, is missing in battle during the Napoleonic War. When the estate of said neighbor is inherited by Piers Verderan, a rake known as the Dark Angel, Emily is repeatedly thrown into contact with him despite the warnings and fears of her friends and family. Verderan, a jaded sophisticate, has come to examine his recent inheritance, whose situation in the heart of the Quorn makes it immediately appealing despite its dilapidated condition.

The plot is deceptively simple. Aging spinster meets rake, opposites attract, spinster tries to keep estate from falling apart, people and events from rake’s past reappear in the present, and the course of true love is eventually smoothed out after a series of bumps. But while the plot and context are drawn from familiar Regency traditions, the characterizations, relationship, and context are beautifully imagined and presented. Emily is an unmarried, inexperienced, unsophisticated woman in her 20s, but she is also intelligent and quick-witted. Verderan, or Ver, is a real rake, not a fake one. He is sophisticated and ruthless, and rumors about his youthful peccadilloes swirl. But he is also intelligent, sensitive, and surprisingly patient with both his young relatives and with Emily. By the end of the novel he is still the rake we met at the beginning, but we understand how he came to be the person he is, and we can see how marriage to Emily will soften some of the hard edges even as he retains his acerbity and sophistication.

Emily and Verderan make a wonderful match, even though they are drawn to each other somewhat unwillingly. Their interactions are by turns funny, sexy, and serious. The book observes the trad norms of avoiding explicit sexuality, but you convey the sensuality of their relationship and others, very clearly. And Emily and Ver don’t engage in the annoying banter that passes for wit in so many novels today. They spar, and their dialogue reflects their intelligence, but it feels like conversation real people would have.

“You must consider yourself fortunate, Miss Grantwich, to live in the heart of the Shires."

Emily focussed again on the road. "On the contrary, sir. The recent passion for hunting is very disruptive. As I have no taste for the chase, I get no benefit from the hullabaloo and a great deal of bother from the hunt charging across our land."

"I'll go odds your father and brothers don't agree," he remarked.

Maliciously she said, "As my father is an invalid and my brother has been missing in action for four months, I think their interest in hunting down foxes is limited." Emily was immediately ashamed of herself. His arrogance was no excuse for her to be positively catty.

She swivelled her head up again and saw a trace of disdain which she knew she deserved. Quickly she said, "I do apologize. There's nothing civilized you can say to such an announcement, is there? I can only excuse myself as being out of sorts after …" Emily found she could not think of a way to describe the recent contretemps.

His lips twitched with what appeared to be genuine amusement. "After being barrelled into," he offered. "Screeched at by a lady of obviously loose morals and drowned in revolting Poudre de Violettes? A powerful excuse for any incivility, I assure you."

Emily’s home circumstances are sympathetically and realistically depicted. Her father chafes at her assumption of control, and she finds it difficult as a single woman to conduct the business necessary to maintain the estate. She is clearly very competent, but she is constrained by the restrictions placed on her, and while she has no desire to marry her worthy but annoying and boring suitor, she knows how limited her life will be if she does not.

Verderan is a wonderful hero. His rakishness is real, his estrangement from his mother and home in Ireland understandable, and his reluctance to acknowledge his attraction to such an unlikely romantic object fun to read. When he falls, and falls hard, it’s very satisfying. The final scenes, fittingly set at the hunt, do both Emily and Verderan justice.

No review of a Jo Beverley book would be complete without a discussion of the context. This book is the penultimate book of a series, and characters from the rest of the books play major roles in it. But in your books the supporting characters never feel like series bait. There is no schoolboy organization to tie the characters together; rather, they are either related or have grown up together. You have stated in discussions of your work that you aim to create a world, and this book is an excellent example of what you mean by that. Our main characters are members of communities embedded in the larger society. They don’t exist in isolation, and their actions affect many others around them. Even Verderan, who has cut himself off from his immediate family, is enmeshed in social relationships.

The fictional world of these young people is located in the larger, real-life world of Melton and the hunting culture. While I’ve read any number of books which namecheck Melton Mowbray, Assheton Smith, and Leicestershire hunting boxes, I’ve never read one with a more fully realized depiction of that world. You weave real-life characters, such as George Osbaldeston, together with your fictional creations seamlessly. As a reader who focuses on context as closely as I do relationships and characterizations, I think this world is as successfully realized as any historical romance, especially given genre and space constraints.

The Regency trad genre has almost disappeared today, although there are a number of good authors writing somewhat related books. But for readers who miss the trad format, or who want a romance that focuses primarily on the hero and heroine and the world in which they live, and who don’t mind a book which foregoes explicit sex but retains subtle sensuality, Emily and the Dark Angel is a must read.

Grade: A

~Sunita

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Sunita has been reading romances since she ran out of Cherry Ames, Student Nurse and Chalet School books and graduated to Mary Stewart and Georgette Heyer. Other old favorites include Mary Burchell, Betty Neels, Elsie Lee, and Edith Layton. Among current writers, she reads and rereads Anne Stuart, Tamara Allen, Jordan Castillo Price, Sarah Morgan, Marion Lennox, Josh Lanyon, and Susanna Kearsley.

23 Comments

  1. Isobel Carr
    Jan 13, 2011 @ 16:42:13

    LOVE THIS BOOK! It reminds me somewhat of Heyer’s Venetia, but not in knock-off way. Just similar tropes being played with and an equally delicious and real rake for a hero.

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  2. Laura
    Jan 13, 2011 @ 18:57:12

    I love the trad Regency novels. I really wish that more current authors would write them – or that more publishers would buy them! I far prefer the Heyer-esque novels to the ballroom!sex novels. :)

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  3. kate Pearce
    Jan 13, 2011 @ 19:40:18

    I love this book! But like you, Deirdre and Don Juan is my favorite :)

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  4. Sunita
    Jan 13, 2011 @ 21:25:08

    I purposely avoided the Heyer comparisons but only because I think Ms. Beverley’s work stands on its own. This series does remind me of Heyer, but the writing style is more natural, less cant-filled and self-consciously clever (and I say that as a huge Heyer fan).

    I love Don Juan as a character and hero, and I really love his relationship with his mother, but I think the straightforward plot of Emily & the DA is stronger. But I will happily reread both, over and over!

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  5. Janet W
    Jan 13, 2011 @ 21:43:02

    To experience the full force-field of Piers and his attractiveness, even after his marriage, read “The Fortune Hunter”. He reminds me so much of Roarke and it’s not just the Irish background.

    This is a marvelous book with each character depicted with details that make them come alive. I’m not sure for me that the Daffodil Dandy is the lynch pin of this series — I would say Randall — but that’s a quibble between friends who agree that this is a masterful book. Thank you for the review!!

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  6. Amy
    Jan 13, 2011 @ 23:06:02

    Based on this review, I went to buy the ebook version first book, Lord Wraybourne’s Betrothed, on Amazon. $12.99!!!! That is ridiculous. I’ll have to wait until I feel up do shopping for an used print copy.

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  7. Jayne
    Jan 14, 2011 @ 05:20:25

    I admit to being prejudiced towards Beverley’s Georgian and medieval set novels but this makes me want to pull out all the old – yes, I’ve owned most of them for years – used copies of her Regencies I own.

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  8. Sunita
    Jan 14, 2011 @ 05:33:53

    @Janet W: I think you’re right about Randall being the real linchpin, I just love the way Kyle Renfrew drifts through the books.

    @Amy: The ebook price is such a bummer. I assume it’s in part because the print reissues are in trade format, but it’s still very annoying.

    @Jayne: I reread them all in order about a year ago, and I couldn’t believe how good some of them were. Talk about holding up well.

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  9. Annabel
    Jan 14, 2011 @ 09:35:50

    Oh, I had to run here immediately when I saw a JoBev review in my twitter feed. Her Malloren books are in my all-time top-ten keepers. I remember devouring them over the course of a week… I’ve never read any other series quite so engrossing and vivid. No one paints an era like her–like you said, she creates an actual “world”. I really admire her research capabilities!

    Thanks for much for posting this, Sunita. I have been in a regency mood lately. This set is going right onto my TBR list.

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  10. becca
    Jan 14, 2011 @ 11:04:29

    yet another set of ebooks priced way out of my range. *sigh* Do publishers actively want us to NOT read their books?

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  11. Carolyn
    Jan 14, 2011 @ 12:18:28

    I too declined to buy it. A shame, because it sounds right up my alley.

    I thought backlist books were supposed to be less pricey??

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  12. Janine
    Jan 14, 2011 @ 13:14:23

    How important is it to read these books in order? I have Emily and the Dark Angel in the TBR pile and I’m reluctant to start with an earlier book because I haven’t had that much luck with the Beverley books I’ve tried in the past.

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  13. lazaraspaste
    Jan 14, 2011 @ 14:39:54

    Janine,

    You totally don’t have to read it in order. I read Emily and the Dark Angel long before I read any other of Jo Beverley’s Regency categories. In fact, I still haven’t read the whole of this particular series.

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  14. Janine
    Jan 14, 2011 @ 18:23:33

    @lazaraspaste: Thanks!

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  15. Sunita
    Jan 14, 2011 @ 20:07:09

    @Janine: The main part you miss is understanding Randall and Sophie’s relationship, which plays a small part in the book. I like to read almost all series in order, but you certainly won’t be lost if you don’t, you’ll just miss some of the nuances in the backstory and the relationships among Verderan’s friends.

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  16. Evangeline Holland
    Jan 14, 2011 @ 22:44:35

    Back when I first discovered romance novels, those old Walker Regencies were my bread and butter. I would stalk through my library stacks, looking for that tell-tale flowery spine, knowing the contents would be awesome. What’s funny is that these books engaged me much more than the full-length Regency Historicals written by former traditional Regency authors like Beverley and Loretta Chase, to name a few. Perhaps the shorter length allowed the authors to play up the wit of the Regency period and they were more adventurous in terms of settings and characters…

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  17. Jo Beverley
    Jan 15, 2011 @ 02:59:14

    Thanks for the lovely review, Sunita. I have to agree that Randall is the link, if there is one at all — I didn’t think of such things back then. Kevin Refrew only comes into the books in Emily. And the book where Ver is introduced and shows his true mettle is The Stolen Bride.

    I apologize for the price of the e-book. I’ll see what I can do, but can’t promise anything. These things are out of my control.

    The differences between trad regency and historical regency are interesting. My early Rogues, now issued as historicals and certainly of that length, were published as trads. Which I never thought they were, but back then, believe it or not, Regency was not considered suitable for historical. Too light.

    I did consciously try to write a long trad with some sex in Hazard, but it probably became a bit too dramatic for the form.

    However, and this plug comes naturally not by cunning, my upcoming Georgia, An Unlikely Countess, has IMO much of the feel of a trad — and some of Heyer’s were Georgian. It’s set in the country, not London, but it’s mostly a social and relationship book.

    Best wishes,

    Jo

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  18. Tweets that mention Sunita’s Best of 2010 Review: Emily and the Dark Angel by Jo Beverley | Dear Author -- Topsy.com
    Jan 15, 2011 @ 03:41:44

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jo Beverley, Patricia Rice. Patricia Rice said: Cool review, Jo: http://tinyurl.com/49rrakv Emily and Dark Angel one of my favorite books of all time! [...]

  19. orannia
    Jan 16, 2011 @ 14:54:25

    Thank you Sunita!

    I love the sound of this! An aging spinster and estate ‘rehabilitation’ (if one can call it that :) are two of my favourite tropes. And luckily with the re-release my library has a copy. I’m not sure if it has the others, but I figured I would try this one and then gently suggest the others :)

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  20. Sunita
    Jan 16, 2011 @ 18:30:39

    @Jo Beverley: Thanks so much for commenting! I have a copy of The Christmas Angel in its Regency trad form. Having read Edith Layton and other (relatively) big fat trads, I thought yours fit right in! But then I think the 1980s trads, especially Fawcett’s, were more varied than the genre became toward the end. It’s fascinating to hear your author’s perspective on this. And I’m looking forward to reading An Unlikely Countess.

    That is so funny about Kyle Renfrew, I think of him as being in all of them. It must be the yellow wardrobe.

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  21. Tinabelle
    Jan 17, 2011 @ 15:14:23

    I enjoy these traditional Regencies that are being reissued but agree w/other posters about the high prices. I rarely buy print books anymore but the prices on these books in e-format are over the top. I have my eye on a few Beverley’s plus a couple by other authors but will hold out in hopes the prices will come down.

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  22. Jo Beverley
    Jan 21, 2011 @ 03:57:47

    Good news. The prices on the Kindle editions of the trads are now down under $10. I didn’t have time to check them all, or the other e-book forms.

    Also, my upcoming reissue of Forbidden Magic is at $6.99, and the new book An Unlikely Countess, for $6.99 pre-order.

    AND, the reissued Georgian novella is $2.99. It’s a long novella, so I think that’s a fair price and I hope some of you will try it. It’s been out of print for ages, but it’s gothicky fun with a rake hero, a vicar’s daughter, and sex in a church involving the great earth spirit, Waldborg.

    I remember at the time being amazed at what an author could get away with in a novella!

    Jo

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  23. Jo Beverley
    Jan 21, 2011 @ 04:00:16

    Sorry, the Demon’s Bride is discounted to $2.39.

    Jo

    ReplyReply

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