Rodney Nairn, not yet out of his teens, is in a terrible fix: his wastrel of a father is selling off everything the young man holds dear and has concocted an arranged marriage for him. Fortunately, Rodney’s honesty to his potential father-in-law, a merchant, about his reluctance for the match deflects his union with fifteen-year-old Judith Hammerton. Yet the glimpses the protagonists exchange in their initial encounter leave impressions. When Judith and Rodney, the new Lord Quenton, meet five years later, they must discover if their teenage attraction can survive the reality of adulthood. That is, if Rodney manages to escape the mysterious individual that threatens his life . . .
Patricia Ormsby’s Heir Presumptive is an enjoyable, Gothic-tinted Regency romance. However, unlike the protagonists’ initial encounter, it does not make a deep impression.
On the plus side, it is refreshing that the hero, not the heroine, is the target of Ormsby’s bad guy. Indeed, Rodney’s more-realistic-for-the-era inheritance of an estate and title (usually the situation of the heroine) give ample justification for him becoming a target for violence.
Additionally, Heir Presumptive is peopled by a detailed, extensive cast. Although some members are caricatures, quite a few have depth and are striking even with limited exposure. Memorable characters include Lord Penston, Rodney’s forty-something, bachelor godfather; Judith’s companion, Miss Patiance Routledge, who suffers some of the unpleasant experiences that are usually reserved for Gothic heroines; Miss “Georgy” Cartwright, Judith’s brash and brassy friend; and even the mousy Euphrasia Edgecombe, who barely figures into the early pages of the book.
Ormsby is less successful with Mr. Jasper Edgecombe. Yes, Edgecombe offers a few surprises, and he, like Georgy, spurs Judith and Rodney’s jealousy. It’s just that his character is not memorable enough in comparison to his “castmates’.” His role in the drama is obvious, yet the central characters are surprisingly (and unbelievably) loathe to acknowledge it.
The drawback to Ormsby’s overflowing cast is that Heir Presumptive can be difficult to follow. At times, it is hard to keep the characters straight. The convoluted plot makes tracking the thread of the story challenging.
Worst of all, Judith and Rodney’s relationship is barely developed. Indeed, the secondary romances are more fleshed out and believable than the primary one. Although I just finished it a few days ago, I can’t recall any scenes between the protagonists that sparkled. Thus, Ormsby’s novel offers more adventure than chemistry, making its status as a romance novel tenuous.
Needless to say, due to Rodney and Judith’s limited interaction, their sexual chemistry is lackluster. Will their love endure? Or won’t it? I couldn’t tell you. This gap in the writing is disappointing, since Ormsby’s reversal of the victim-rescuer dynamic is an unconventional frame for the hero and heroine’s relationship.
If I were a teacher, I’d give Heir Presumptive a “C” as a romance and a “B-” as a story. Although Ormsby creates a strong backdrop, she misfires where it matters most.