RogerBW's Blog

The Boxing Baroness, Minerva Spencer 05 March 2024

2022 Regency romance. Marianne Simpson boxes at Farnham's Fantastical Female Fayre, run by her uncle. She has good reason to be suspicious of aristocratic men. But the Duke of Staunton has need of her…

It's interestingly convoluted: Marianne thought she was married to a Bad Baron, but he turned out to have faked it all, and naturally her version of events wan't believed. That same Bad Baron is now requiring Marianne's presence in France as part of the cost of ransoming Staunton's brother, thought dead in the recent war. Everything folds back on itself, leaving the setup admirably compact, if sometimes a little claustrophobic.

This feels as if it could have been a much longer book. Marianne and the Duke have to reach an armed neutrality (with him acting the part of her trainer); then they set off on their trip into France, one of the many travelling companies taking advantage of the end of the war; then Napoleon escapes from Elba while the company is still there…

And there's a revelation at about the three-quarters mark which throws everything sideways, feeling almost as though it had come from a different story entirely, set on a rather larger stage. Which I don't mind, exactly, but both of these stories, before and after that revelation, were interesting in themselves, and I'd have liked to read both of them separately rather than having one supplanted by the other.

Chunks of this are anachronistic, but it feels as though they're being used with respect and in a way that makes sense, even if those events didn't actually happen just then. I was somewhat thrown by the big surprise, but Spencer makes it work, at least enough for me to enjoy going along for the ride.

(This is the first of a trilogy, and the other two inevitable pairings are set up here. No mystery about what'll happen there, and I rather suspect the third volume will be the most enjoyable.)

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