I met Barb Monajem yonks ago, in The Cherries, Jenny Crusie’s fan club. I was Jen No Cherry (*long story) and Barb was Barbaric Cherry.
In due course Barb became an award-winning writer, with more than 20 books to her name. Her latest series is Regency mystery with a slow-burning romance on a long arc. I saw the cover for Lady Rosamund and the Horned God (OMG title envy!) and had to read it, but I wanted to start with the first volume, Lady Rosamund and the Poisoned Pen.
In two pages, I was hooked.
What got me immediately is that class issues are foregrounded here. I love Regency novels, although I’m less fond of the actual history of the era. Irreflective authors of these novels tend to portray the Regency’s lower classes as Munchkins who laugh the day away in service to the beautiful people. Makes me itch.
This heroine is well-born, the hero, some sort of shabby-genteel Scot. In time, we may well learn that he is better connected than Lady R at first supposes. Book One telegraphs a lot of coming shocks to Lady R’s prejudices, and only some are immediately delivered. Lady R herself is handicapped: she suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder, which is only a nameless behavioral twitch in her era, and an excuse for her evil mother to persecute her with constant threats of the madhouse. (Ooo, juicy evil mother! So, so sociopathic!)
Every blessing in Lady R’s life is second-best, half-hearted, grudgingly helpful, temporarily comfortable. About the only thing she has going for her is her social position, and the detective, Gilroy McBrae, spends much of his time puncturing her prejudices and wearing down her sense of superiority. Kind of a rotten thing to do – except that he values her for everything that her nearest and dearest punish her for. Through McBrae, she achieves self-respect, independence, and some degree of safety. If it weren’t for all these mysteries in which she is embroiled, she would only … still … have her family to contend with.
I really hate to go into these books in greater detail, for fear of spoiling something. I hope that, like me, you’ll sit down for a few minutes’ entertainment and find yourself three hours later with cold coffee, breathless and delighted.
The Jen No Cherry name came from an incident when I was first married, scooping ice cream at a Baskin Robbins in Edgewater, Chicago. A young lady used to come in (a high school student, I learned later) who would demand a “Marshmallow Sundae – no cherry!” in the most angry, scornful way imaginable. I always gave it to her, until one day I forgot and put on the cherry, and she reached across the counter and decked me with one punch. I can only suppose she had had previously unpleasant experiences with her marshmallow sundaes.