The Marquis of Troon has been chafing ever since he returned from fighting on the Continent. Nothing satisfies his lust for action and and the thrill of the fight. To distract himself, he has thrown himself into affairs, pranks, gambling, and high-stakes racing. Now, he realizes that he has to safe-guard his family seat from his radical younger brother. That means marriage and an heir. As one last fling before proposing to his notorious mistress, the Marquis arranges an ultra-dangerous midnight steeplechase with cash prizes. When he jokes that his contenders should make wills, he doesn’t expect anyone to take it seriously. Then, after his runner-up dies from a heart attack, Serle discovers that the man had drawn up a legal document–making the Marquis his daughter’s guardian!
Meanwhile, Valeta Lingfield could not be more furious. How could the irresponsible Marquis of Troon not comprehend that offering huge cash prizes for dangerous steeplechases might just tempt people–people like her father, with his heart condition–to risk their lives? She cannot but hold him responsible for her father’s death. Moreover, the Marquis spends money like water as his tenants can barely afford rent. He hasn’t bothered to notice that his Agent is so old and bored of his job that he neglects his duties. He is unaware that the previous year’s drought means that the the people on his land can only pray for a good year for their survival.
And all the time, this despicable Marquis is merrily buying his mistress expensive jewels, the cost of which could alleviate so much suffering–suffering the Marquis doesn’t even notice exists all over the country. What kind of monster could behave in such a way?
It isn’t surprising to the reader, therefore, that Valeta is less than pleased that her father made Troon her guardian. She despises the man on principle, and isn’t afraid to tell him exactly why. It is, however, surprising to the Marquis to find a woman–especially such a young woman–who is ready to cut him down.
And–while she’s at it–to call him to his duties. Now that he knows about how badly things are going on his estate, he has little choice but look into it.
Now, I must call Barbara Cartland to task for a central element of this book: one of the “social projects” that Valeta takes on is an abused chimney sweep who happens to fall down the Marquis’s chimney, landing right at her feet. Filthy, with burnt feet and a ruthless master, the little boy immediately becomes Valeta’s protegé: she insists that he get his freedom, bathes him, and takes him in . . . and so forth. Any reader of Georgette Heyer will recognize this plotline as lifted from Arabella.
However, I will restrain myself from dinging Cartland on this “borrowing” too much. She does take the chimney-sweep story in a very different direction, and she weaves it more effectively into the conclusion of the book than Heyer did. She also–as she is wont to do–includes a blurb about her research into the plight of the boys who were forced to work as sweeps during the era, including the case that inspired this particular subplot. Since there was original work involved, Cartland can be excused, but it is inescapable that at first glance, the scene is similar to Heyer’s, and serves a similar function for both hero and heroine.
Since reading The Duchess Disappeared, which I enjoyed in particular for Fiona, the feisty heroine, I’ve been disappointed by Cartland’s books. The next two Cartland heroines were really weak characters (both weak-willed and weakly-written). Valeta, however, is refreshing. She is strong, mouthy, educated, and socially conscious. She stands up to a man who is by far her social superior and tells him exactly what he is, without fear of repercussions. She causes him to change by showing him that there are exciting battles to fight on the homefront–social injustice, for instance, or the better treatment of his own tenants. Though she does have her “damsel in distress” moment, she handles it well.
The Marquis of Troon is another reformed rake, which gets tiresome. However, he is somewhat redeemed by his unconventional impulse to–if he really must marry–get hitched to his notorious mistress, Lady Dilys, who he finds exciting due to her quick wit and love of pranks. However, his best feature is his ability to take Valeta’s feedback and actually examine himself, then swing into action and create real change. Indeed, the Marquis of Troon shows himself as remarkably willing to listen to those around him and take their input into consideration.
I also found the Marquis’s seemingly incurable restlessness after returning from war to be totally believable. He was a soldier who loved the thrill of the fight–the rush of adrenaline–and I bought that upon returning home he chose the obvious direction for reliving that rush (gambling, pranking, mistresses, spending a lot of blunt). I also found his “conversion” to a different kind of battle to be equally compelling. In the end, a battle is a battle, and the rush of doing social good seems to be just what the Marquis didn’t know he was looking for all along.
In sum, this effort of Cartland’s was much better than the last two. The protagonists compliment each other well, and their relationship did not seem to be forced. Like all the other Cartland novels I’ve read, the book is sweet and chaste. Recommended.