Miss Bates was travelling for work on old chugga-chugga trains this week and, to their rocking motion, read a rom novel and novella, Sabrina Jeffries’s The Danger of Desire and Meredith Duran’s “Sweetest Regret”, two of her favourite romance writers. Jeffries’s rom was the follow-up to one of last year’s top MissB. roms, The Study of Seduction. As for Duran, it had been a while and MissB. was most happy to find herself in Duran’s erudite, moving romance ethos.
Jeffries’s late-Regency Danger of Desire sees yet another St. George’s Club heroes, Warren Corry, Marquess of Knightford, so-called rakehell (though he never behaves as such) pit himself against the shenanigans of miss-dressed-as-boy, Delia Trevor. Clarissa, Study of Seduction‘s heroine, asks Warren (possibly the worst rom-hero name ever) to look out for Delia. Delia, on her part, spends her nights, disguised as a young man, gambling her way to discovering the identity of the man who cheated her deceased brother of her, and his wife and son’s, living. Delia’s mystery and intrigue isn’t the only challenge facing her and Warren as they, at least initially, spar and circle each other. Warren, on the surface devil-may-care, contains a psychic wound, which explains his reluctance to marry.
Jeffries’s Danger of Desire is a lacklustre read, especially when compared to the marvelous Study of Seduction. The first third is the strongest, wherein Warren and Delia banter the wisdom of her nightly gambling forays and Warren takes on the role of foiler. When his foiling turns to protectiveness, the rom violins come out and the story turns conventional. Moreover, Miss Bates never felt that the narrative really gelled after that initial witty repartee opening. Jeffries created two protagonists with interesting personal dilemmas, but their coming together in mutual support, respect, and love never quite got off the ground. They’re amorous coming together, on the other hand, is all too frequent and apparent. The narrative, especially in the last third, meandered into sequal-bait territory and the culprit’s revelation was ho-hum deus ex machina, the romance narrative’s bane. Miss Bates went in wanting to like this, but it fell flat after a fledgling promise. Echoing Miss Austen, Miss Bates would say that Sabrina Jeffries’s Danger of Desire provides “tolerable comfort,” Northanger Abbey.
Meredith Duran’s reunited-lovers, cross-class novella is a whole other story (pun intended). It is a gem of a romance narrative because the protagonists so obviously belong together, their obstacles are believably insurmountable, at least initially, and Duran’s handling of the novella form is one of the best Miss Bates has seen. As Miss B. has argued elsewhere, Duran is a master of cross-class and divided loyalties conflict. In “Sweetest Regret,” she manages so much with such a low “word” count and the reason is because few romance writers understand and exploit the constraints and possibilities of the romance narrative. By making Georgiana “Georgie” Trent and Lucas Godwin reunited-lovers, after an embittered and painful parting two years ago, Duran cleverly brings a shared history and established love to and for her protagonists. Lucas Godwin, diplomat in Georgie’s father’s service, the product of mésalliance between an aristocratic father and commoner mother, abandoned Georgie, without explanation. Georgie, in turn, has lived in hurt, anger, and disappointed confusion since. Now, three days before Christmas, Lucas Godwin arrives at her absent father’s house-party on a mission to find a stolen, sensitive letter.
It is worth reading Duran’s Victorian-set novella for the blind-man’s bluff game that constitutes Lucas and Georgie’s reunion. It’s worth it to read Duran’s novella for her clever exploitation of the Christmas season, reflecting Lucas and Georgie’s reunion and re-admittance of love: the pre-season hush, the preparation, the joy of something new and promising being born. It’s worth reading Duran’s novella for the writing and the thematic Christmas allusions:
“Are you mad?” He cupped her cheeks, swept her hair back from her eyes. “I could use ten thousand words to describe you – but never, even at my most disillusioned, would plain and ordinary have numbered among them. You are … ” He shook his head as he gazed at her. “Georgie, you are a miracle. Clever without cruelty, kind without naïveté, beautiful without flaw. And I prayed nightly that you would be my miracle … “
How does Duran manage to write romance that is intelligent and moving? She builds a world of hurt between Georgie and Lucas and then chips away at it with confrontation, conversation, shared purpose, friendship, attraction, and ends with, cherishing. One of the most important ways to write a convincing HEA is not about the LURVE, but about how the hero and heroine will cherish each other. It is very easy to see how Georgie and Lucas will.
On a final note, Duran has understood that the romance novella cannot sustain the full brunt of the romance narrative arc: encounter/reunion, repulsion/attraction, conflict/obstacles, betrayal/loss/hopelessness/dark moment(s), and resolution/grovel/confession, and HEA. She most astutely allows Lucas and Georgie the former and saves the latter, the key moment of separation, the betrayal (which Miss Bates analyzed in detail elsewhere) for another person, outside the central couple, as well as in Lucas and Georgie’s past. So, read Duran’s novella to see how the form is used by a master hand. In Duran’s “Sweetest Regret,” Misses Austen and Bates say, “there is no charm equal to tenderness of heart,” Emma.
Sabrina Jeffries’s The Danger of Desire is published by Pocket Books. It was released in November 2016 and may be found at your preferred vendors. Meredith Duran’s “Sweetest Regret” is published by Pocket Star Books. It was released in November 2016 and may be found at your preferred vendors. Miss Bates received e-ARCS, via Netgalley.