I’m stepping some way outside my comfort zone today – and I was really surprised how much I enjoyed the experience! I’m sharing my review of Autumn Bride by Melinda Hammond, first published in January 1983, published for kindle in 2015: it’s also available via Kindle Unlimited, and as part of the Four Regency Seasons anthology (just £2.99, also available via KU).
I don’t know if anyone’s really noticed, but Regency and Georgian romance is something I rarely (maybe make that “never”) read, despite my passion for romance and my occasional excursions into historical fiction – I’ve just always believed it wasn’t for me. And what did I base that on? I have absolutely no idea – other than a less than enthusiastic brush with Georgette Heyer’s books way back in my teens.
So why now? Well, it was entirely down to the author. You might remember how much I enjoyed both the Miss Moonshine anthologies (reviews here and here): I especially liked the stories from Melinda Hammond, we chatted on Twitter about her books, and I asked her which one she suggested I might try. I confessed the genre made me a little nervous, so we made a deal – she sent me a copy of this one (thank you Melinda!), a little shorter than a full-length novel, to read when I could. If I didn’t enjoy it we’d just allow it to disappear, and no-one would be any the wiser: instead, I messaged her when I finished reading to tell her how very much I’d enjoyed it.
When Major Lagallan suggests to Miss Caroline Hetton that she should marry his young brother, she can hardly believe her good fortune, and at first sight Vivyan Lagallan seems to be the perfect bridegroom; young, charming and exceedingly handsome. Yet upon closer acquaintance, Caroline is disturbed by his wild, restless spirit and discovers that he has a taste for excitement that eventually endangers not only his life, but hers, too.
Only because of its unfamiliarity – my natural element is contemporary fiction – I’ll admit I expected to struggle a little with this one, the historical setting, the conventions and the social constraints. Instead, I was delighted to find that I immediately took to Caroline, both feisty and engaging, as she pondered whether to accept marriage to the dashing Vyvyan Lagallan as an escape from the uncertainties of her future.
I really must apologise to the author (and, I’m sure, many other writers of Regency and Georgian romance), but I’d expected a rather more alien environment: instead, I found that this is very much the world of Jane Austen (history really isn’t my strong point – why hadn’t I realised that?), and I must say there was something particularly Austen-esque about both the characterisation and the sparkling dialogue in this lovely story.
The author deftly creates a world that I immediately entered, accepted and felt part of: her characters are exceptionally well-drawn, fully developed, and only build in strength and depth as the story progresses and we get to know them better. I was particularly intrigued by the Major – kind, caring, surprisingly witty and astute: Vyvyan though is a wonderful loveable rogue, adventurous and living his life with an edge of danger and excitement. And I equally enjoyed many of the supporting cast. There’s a quite hideous curmudgeonly uncle, adept with nasty jibes and put-downs, who can see his life of comfort disappearing if the planned marriage goes ahead: and I really loved Mrs Cley, with her daring fashion choices and contempt for lesser mortals, her pistol in her muff and her cap firmly set in the Major’s direction.
As a romance, it really worked for me – I felt the chemistry throughout. But it’s also a story with a surprising amount of action and drama, with really excellent edge-of-the-seat writing, as a highwayman causes mayhem by threatening unwary travellers. And there are some quite wonderful scenes and set pieces, none more thrilling than Vyvyan racing his horses against the elements and the incoming tide. I won’t spoil the story, but there are some excellent twists and turns too – perhaps not entirely unpredictable, but so well executed that I became entirely involved with the characters – with a particularly jaw-dropping one towards the story’s end.
I really loved it, and now have the sequel, The Dream Chasers, waiting on my kindle – and I’m very much looking forward to it. Who’d have thought it, eh?!
About the author
I write under the names of Melinda Hammond and Sarah Mallory: I am a proud patron of the Lancashire Authors Association and a long-time member of the Romantic Novelists Association.
I have been telling stories for as long as I can remember – many of them born of frustration when I was stuck in a classroom longing to be rescued! I love anything romantic, whether it is a grand opera or a beautiful painting. It doesn’t necessarily have to be happy, as long as it is inspiring.
I was born in Bristol and grew up on Barton Hill, an area of small terraced houses built in the nineteenth century between the mills and the railway. I think my love of adventure stories is due to the fact that I grew up with three older brothers and lived in a street full of boys! My love of history and the English language was fostered at grammar school, where I soon discovered the delights of Georgian and Regency fiction, first of all with the works of Jane Austen and then Georgette Heyer.
I left school at sixteen to work in companies as varied as stockbrokers, marine engineers, biscuit manufacturers and even a quarrying company, but I never lost my love of history, and when I wasn’t reading and researching the Georgian and Regency period I was writing stories about it.
When I was at home with my first child, I decided to try my hand at writing seriously, and my first historical novel, Fortune’s Lady, was published by Robert Hale in 1980. I have now published more than twenty novels, over a dozen of them as Melinda Hammond, winning the Reviewers Choice award in 2005 from Singletitles.com for Dance for a Diamond and the Historical Novel Society’s Editors Choice in 2006 for Gentlemen in Question. Writing as Sarah Mallory for Harlequin Mills & Boon, The Earl’s Runaway Bride won a coveted CataNetwork Reviewers Choice award for 2010 and I have won the the RNA’s RoNA Rose Award in 2012 and 2013.
After many years living on the West Yorkshire moors, I have now moved to the remote Scottish Highlands. The new house overlooks the sea, where the stunning scenery inspires me to write even more!