Cecily Hadley has had a hard time. Impoverished after her father’s death, estranged from her morally-unacceptable uncle, and chaperoned only by the “dragon”-like Miss Dowie, Cecily has no recourse to support herself but the stage. And the stage is no respectable place for a proper young lady to be! In less than a week, the seemingly dreadful but rather pretty actress is already the rage of the ton. Then, she encounters Robert Ranleigh (of course, the “reigning gallant” of Regency London), who also happens to be a distant relation. Propriety requires that he save her (and their family’s reputation) from disgrace by removing her from her awkward situation at once.
Her past on stage is not easy to escape, Cecily soon discovers. She gets into scrape after scrape and becomes the love interest of every young gentleman in the story. When Ranleigh sets her up as a governess, she’s pursued relentlessly by unwanted admirers. When she flees their attentions, Robert tracks her down.
It seems that Cecily isn’t as able to fend for herself as her career in the theatre suggests. Ranleigh must rescue her, or they’d have no relationship at all.
I wanted to like this book. I am interested in the premise, for as a lover of theatre, any book that deals with theatre is intrigues me. However, too many plot points were unbelievable. First, Cecily–described as a bad actress–is only on stage (under a pseudonym) for a week, playing a tiny role. How does she become notorious and desired so quickly–or offered a role in School for Scandal? Mary Sue, anyone?
Second, the characters are unbelievable. Cecily and Ranleigh lack chemistry–definitely a downside in a romance. In fact, the minor figure of Lord Neagle, a comical and charming fourteen-year-old, steals every scene he is in. He’s a better character than either of the leads. Indeed, I would have rather read a novel about Lord Neagle’s various scrapes and teenage puppy-love than Cecily and Robert’s romance.
Finally, there is little coherence to the story: the heroine bounces from location to location, peril to peril, always needing to be saved. In this, Cecily reminds me of the equally disappointing Lady Blue by Zabrina Faire. As I said then, constant motion does not equal a plot.
As a theatre scholar, I appreciate the fact that either the author or a sharp-eyed editor caught a near-error in historical accuracy. Early in the book, Cecily is preparing for a role in Sheridan’s School for Scandal. However, she and her troupe are not performing on a legitimate stage, of which there were only three. During the Regency period, only three licensed theatres could put on “legitimate” dramas and comedies.
Fortunately, someone caught this mistake and shoehorned a correction into the book. A clarification that Mr. Jillson, the actor/manager had to cut the play to three acts and add songs, turning the play into a burletta that could be performed by their company, was added. That fixes the inaccuracy, though the exposition explaining the mechanics of early-nineteenth-century theatre was clumsy.
Cecily is part of a number of books by Clare Darcy–each named after the heroine–that were published and republished by several companies. Until I began to read my second Darcy book (the much better Lydia), I didn’t realize that Cecily was part of a series.
However, now that I know, I do think they are worth reviewing here. This particular book just isn’t a strong effort. The publishers were too optimistic when they advertised Darcy as an author in Georgette Heyer’s mould. She does not live up to her predecessor.