The Wicked Wedding of Miss Ellie Vyne
This Regency romance opens in masquerade: James Hartley, dressed as a notorious highwayman, doesn’t realize the “Marie Antoinette” he kisses is the “Ellie Phant” he taunted as a youth. But he does determine to marry her, if he can ever catch her.
The book is fast and witty, true to genre without straying into cliché. Of course Ellie Vyne is “wicked” compared to her status-obsessed peers, but she has reasons other than simple rebelliousness. And James is the classic rake — stinking rich and a good leg in breeches — but he has his flaws, as well as a cheeky valet to puncture his ego.
James pursues Ellie (not realizing he’s already kissed her in Chapter One) to recover the famous Hartley Diamonds, which after a chain of events have ended up in her hands. Fine, except that the whole intrigue depends on Ellie — always described in pleasingly womanlike terms — having impersonated a grown man for several hours in close company. I’d like to have seen how she pulled that off, but we’re never given a scene with Ellie as the “Count de Bonneville.”
Setting aside such quibbles, constant intrigue (amnesia, blackmail, and yet more false identities) keeps the tone light and adds an air of innocent danger to the love story — right up until the last chapters, which tie up all the loose ends by way of mention and rush right through the wedding. Twenty more pages, or perhaps a false mustache in the punch bowl, might have done the trick.