Monday, July 02, 2012

Bit Of An Update On Classic Regency Romances

Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl is an example of a buzzed book with three starred reviews (that I'm aware of) that is worth all the hype.

It's being called a mix of I Capture the Castle by Dodi Smith (I think I saw the movie, though I remember next to nothing about it) and Pride and Prejudice by You Know Who. I think it has something in common with the Regency novels of Georgette Heyer. In Keeping the Castle you have the young woman looking for love, misunderstandings before she finds it, and, as often happened in Heyer's Regency romances (a genre she is said to have created), an outsider male.

Keeping the Castle has an updated twist, though, because seventeen-year-old Althea is all business, not romance. She's out to use her beauty, which she knows won't last long, to score a wealthy husband who will save her family's dilapidated castle home, thus providing for her mother and very young brother, as well as all the people who work for the family. A lot is riding on her. She's a lot like the female lead in a contemporary YA novel who is intent on going into a profession. The outsider male in this case isn't a rogue, as you find in the old-time romances. He's an outsider because he can actually do something. In this aristocratic world, doing nothing because you've inherited wealth is held in higher regard than being smart enough to make a buck.

Althea and Mr. Fredericks (I don't recall if we ever learn his first name) are witty, somewhat combative characters, making Keeping the Castle a comedy of manners. Fredericks appears so inept at the narrow social demands of Althea's world that for a while I wondered if he was supposed to have Asperger's. This  is a historical romance that also has a feminist slant. There is a female character who can also do something. And while Althea makes clear how few legal rights women have in her world, wives and mothers have a lot of power and even control within their families.

This is a fine book of its kind, but I don't know that it necessarily had to be published as YA. These kinds of books have been around for general audiences for decades. Centuries if you want to think back to Pride and Prejudice.

Plot Project: Keeping the Castle follows a formulaic plot for Regency romances, which readers who are familiar with them will recognize. The book makes a good argument that formula books can be well done and entertaining. Beyond that, Althea does have a problem--finding a rich husband--and she keeps running into obstacles to solving it. On the other hand, the action of the story does begin because a new, young, titled man moves into the neighbor, a definite change in her world.

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