REVIEW: A London Season by Joan Wolf
Dear Ms. Wolf,
I had heard many good things about your book, A London Season. Despite having been published twenty-six years ago, it remains loved by many fans of traditional regencies, some of whom consider it a classic of that subgenre. So when a copy of the book came my way, I was eager to read it.
When Lady Jane Fitzmaurice is six years old, her parents’ boat capsizes, leaving young Jane orphaned. Jane is sent to live with her uncle Edward in Newmarket, on an estate called Heathfield. Since Edward is only twenty-six years old, he is not ready to raise a child, but fortunately for him, Jane is no ordinary child. Independent, self-possessed, and direct, she has a maturity that few children her age share.
Edward gives Jane free reign to mostly do as she pleases, and Jane is more than pleased to discover that Edward has bought her two ponies and is the owner of a superb stable. More than anything else, Jane loves to ride.
Seven year old David Chance also loves riding. David lives in Newmarket with his aunt, a Frenchwoman who has been raising him since his parents were killed in the French Revolution. David’s aunt is a bitter and unpleasant woman, and David’s escape is going to Heathfield to look at the horses.
David too is an unusual child; gentle, patient and intelligent. He is very good with horses, so the Heathfield grooms have him exercise Jane’s ponies while they are waiting for her to arrive. David is prepared to dislike Jane, but he is quickly won over by her horsemanship. Jane too takes a shine to David very quickly. She shares her ponies with him, and he shares his secret place in the woods with her.
Thereafter, Jane and David become Jane-and-David, inseparable and unswervingly loyal to one another. They love each other with the intensity of children who have no one else to love. As they grow up, Edward’s casual attitude to raising his niece works in their favor. He allows Jane to study with David and to continue riding with him.
But Jane and David’s luck can’t hold out forever. They are sixteen and seventeen respectively when their feelings for each other begin to take a romantic turn. Unfortunately, though Jane’s uncle Edward likes David, who is now training to take over the position of head groom at Heathfield, he cannot see his way to letting Jane marry a commoner. He is determined that Jane should have a London season in which to find a more proper husband.
A London Season is an unusual romance, and I can see why it is considered a classic of its subgenre. Even after twenty-six years, the story feels fresh and different from most romances. Its main characters are memorable, vivid and distinct. Jane’s determination and willpower sets her apart from most heroines. David, despite being only eighteen at the end of the story, is both gentle and strong, possessing a maturity that many older heroes lack.
As I read the book, I turned each page eagerly to find out what would happen to Jane and David. Their young love mattered all the more to me because they were only in their teens.
Nonetheless, I do have a few quibbles. A London Season is written very simple sentences, and some were too simple for my taste. Second, the resolution of the class difference issues between Jane and David was a bit predictable. Third, when, at the end, there was talk of Jane having David’s babies, I was doubtful of whether she was mature enough to handle that responsibility. I know that in the nineteenth century many girls did marry at seventeen and have children shortly afterward, but Jane seemed in many ways too young to be a mother.
Despite these points, I enjoyed A London Season very much. This is one traditional regency classic that has aged seamlessly, and I’m happy to give it a strong B.
Glad to see you reviewing semi-regularly again.
The story sounds interesting, but the age things throws me big time. I don’t know why, I’m not sure I can read about such young H/H when I have a kid of my own whose age is already in the double digits. Ack.
I’m someone who doesn’t like a too-young heroine, but usually that’s because she’s matched with a hero almost twice her age. When both H/H are so close in age it generally doesn’t bother me, as I read it as a YA story about growing up as much as a romance. This is definitely the kind of thing I can accept better in a historical, because if this were a contemporary the H/H would be exactly the same age as my youngest son and his girlfriend, and that would definitely throw me.
Sherry and Susan —
I didn’t know that the hero and heroine of the book would be so young when I picked it up, and if I had known, I might have been reticent to read it as well. But I did enjoy A London Season, and I’m glad I read it. It was a little like Romeo and Juliet with a much happier ending. I agree, Susan, that the historical aspect makes it easier to accept. For me that’s partly because I know that young people matured earlier in the Regency era than they do today.
@Janine: Thank you so much for reviewing this. I picked it up secondhand on a whim remembering that you’d rated it as B and I am so glad that you did, and that I did – it absolutely made my flu-ridden, rainy Thursday.
I really liked the simplicity of the language and the deftness of the characterization. Jane and David both are so vivid and strong and unique. I have met a few people like that, bright flames as they are and the book captures that quality perfectly. There’s a solidity to the society backdrop, despite it being sketched in, and the author uses the mores of the times with a pleasingly clear understanding of how they could be bent – for certain people. Love that.
I’m definitely now going to go hunt down Joan Wolf’s backlist. Thanks again!
So glad you enjoyed A London Season! It’s been more than two years since I wrote this review and I haven’t reread the book in the intervening time but I still remember it vividly. You’re so right about David and Jane. And they seemed so right for each other, too.
I have only read two other Joan Wolf regencies, The Counterfeit Marriage, which didn’t work for me, and His Lordship’s Mistress, which I liked very much. Good luck exploring her backlist!