Saturday, June 12, 2010

Crossed Quills

The title: Crossed Quills
The author: Carola Dunn
Publication: Zebra, 1998
Got it from: Hannelore's, c. spring 2008

I finished this book ages ago and I'm sorry I haven't had a chance to review it before now. Never mind the 80's-looking cover with David Hasselhoff, I can't remember the last time I enjoyed a romance novel more.

Wynn Selworth has recently inherited his great-uncle's riches and viscount title. Being passionate about the plight of the poor in England, he longs to make a speech in the House of Lords that will make people sit up and take notice. Unfortunately, Wynn has a secret. For years he wrote Gothic romances under the pen name Valentine Dred. Now he can't write his speech without using the melodramatic metaphors of his romances. As a fan of the radical political newspaper writer "Prometheus," Wynn goes to engage this man's service to help his writing.

What he doesn't know is that "Prometheus" is actually a young woman who took up writing radical reform speeches when her father died (he was the original Prometheus.) Pippa Lisle agrees to act as the "go-between" for Wynn and Prometheus if he agrees to sponsor her younger sister's coming-out in London. As Wynn himself has a younger sister coming out that season, he agrees. Pippa is dismayed when her mother also gets Wynn to sponsor Pippa herself, as she would far rather be home reading the latest political news than attending dinner parties and dances.

Carola Dunn does an excellent job of handling a story that could have easily veered into silly or preachy territory. Instead, it is the perfect blend of romance, humor and sweetness. Being a traditional Regency, there's not so much as a chaste kiss, but there is nonetheless wonderful sexual tension, particularly when Pippa imagines being Wynn's wife. Both the protagonists are extremely likable, intelligent and average-looking. Wynn is not your typical rakish Regency viscount, but a kind and considerate man who respects women and finds himself falling in love quite unexpectedly. Pippa does not plan on getting married because of her independence, and there's some nice feminist moments when she muses on the plight of women in her society:

Why were unmarried ladies supposed to be kept in ignorance of so much that was going on in the world? Surely the more they knew the better they could deal with life.

If women were properly educated, they would want to run their own lives. Men would have to give up their authority - which was the answer to her question. They set the rules, and in their determination to keep hold of the reins, they dictated what respectable young ladies should or should not know.

It's refreshing to read a romance that's a true meeting on minds; where you feel the hero and heroine are really equals. The tension is held perfectly - are they or aren't they finally going to admit their feelings for each other? - right up until the very last paragraph. I also liked how the secondary characters were equally enjoyable when they could have so easily been caricatures. There's a nice secondary romance with Pippa's younger sister and one of Wynn's friends. We're also introduced to another of Wynn's sisters, who's a longtime friend of Pippa's and has married before the story begins. I'm sorely disappointed that Dunn never wrote their story, because they seemed like a wonderful match too. Since I don't usually care for series romance, that's a huge compliment to the author that I liked her secondary characters enough to want to read more about them.

I was very sorry to finish this book. Highly recommended, especially if you're looking for a comfort read. This is the perfect book for relaxing in the bath, on a cold evening, or if you're sick and don't want to get out of bed. A-