Thursday, February 11, 2010

Short and Sweet

A Matter of Class
By Mary Balogh

This Regency novella tells the story of Reginald Mason and Lady Annabelle Ashton, forced to marry each other by their feuding fathers. Reggie is the son of a fantastically wealthy coal merchant, and has been well educated and brought up to be a gentleman. His father Bernard’s dearest ambition is to see his son marry into the aristocracy, a group that has always snubbed him because he made his money in trade. In fact, Lady Annabelle’s father, the Earl of Havercroft and the Mason’s nearest neighbor, is so affronted by Bernard Mason’s offer of friendship that he refuses to have anything to do with the man or his family; his own wife and daughter are forbidden to even acknowledge their existence. Bernard Mason responds in kind, and so Reggie and Annabelle grow up living next door to each other, attending services in the same small church, and never once exchanging any public greeting. As the story opens, Reggie is busy spending his father’s money in all sorts of inappropriate ways, and Annabelle has just attempted to elope with an extremely inappropriate man. Both fathers are livid, and all sorts of dire threats are made. The Earl of Havercroft has lost a fortune in bad investments, and now that the chances of Annabelle making an advantageous marriage of virtually gone, he threatens to send her to one of his country houses as a scullery maid, since he certainly cannot afford to keep her in style not that she is a social pariah. Reggie is also threatened with being cut off, the difference being that his family is still wealthy. Very wealthy. As he points out to his father, he has not squandered both money and reputation the way Lady Annabelle and her father have. At this point his father comes to a brilliant conclusion: what Reggie needs is a wife to settle him down and that wife will be Lady Annabelle Ashton, since what she needs is a wealthy husband. This will also provide him with revenge against the Earl, who is in no position to refuse. And thus Annabelle and Reggie find themselves betrothed, a Regency Romeo and Juliet who end up married rather than dead as a result of coming from feuding families. How they reach a happily ever after involves a few plot twists and turns. Any fan of Regency romance or Mary Balogh will find this short book charming and clever and lots of fun.

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