My rating: 4 of 5 stars
To begin, let me say that Ms Ferguson penned one of my favourite regency romances a few years ago and so bought my loyalty for all eternity. It was the charming Lord Sidley’s Last Season, which I would recommend to most regency lovers.
In three related but independent books, Ms Ferguson tells us the tales of three men, three brothers who are all descendants of dukes and all very stubbornly different from each other.
In Merely A Mister, the third and possibly final book in this series, we read about Lord Hayden, the eldest son and the heir to the Duke of Braughton.
Through Quiet Meg (Avalon Romance) and Major Lord David I have known the dutiful, solemn side of the Marquis. I have also seen him come to his brother’s aid in a most unconventional way. It is easy to say that he puts family and honour before all personal happiness – he has sacrificed much – but he isn’t a push over. He challenges his father’s outdated ideas as he advices the Duke on matters of politics and admits to himself that it would take time and a lot of patience to usher in changes through his father. But as perfect a son and Marquis as Lord Hayden is, there are those in the ton who think him too serious, too much given to grim duty. And the same voices dub him ‘His Resplendence’ for certainly one of the duties of the heir to Braughton is to give in to the strict dictatorship of a demanding valet.
And so this elegant, sombre aristocrat is found in a villa by the Lake Camo at the beginning of our story, where he paused with a friend for a few weeks during a post-war tour of the Continent.
But Lord Hayden isn’t well, he suffers, as he has since he was sixteen, from a lung infection that infrequently but for weeks renders him incapacitated. In Camo, despite the balmy weather, he can feel himself sickening again. He knows what comes next and in a bid to keep his family and friends from knowing of his illness he flies back to England and onward to some northern estates that his father had mentioned having some small trouble in some time ago.
But before he could reach the Priory where he’d sent his men and carriage to ahead of himself, he takes an ill-advised ride on an open cart with a tradesman and suffers a sudden relapse. He thought he had time before he was thus pulled under, but the journey had exhausted him and his one attempt at courting adventure landed him in an unconscious pile on the doorsteps of one Anne Whyte.
And so Hayden meets a woman whose education was far from conventional, who is determined and blunt and utterly capable. Anne Whyte eases his suffering and in a few days, Hayden finds himself improving more quickly than he had ever before. He finds himself flirting with her and then being unable to to stop himself from asking too much about her. He finds that the mere idea of another man courting her angers him and that he is extremely reluctant to correct her impression that he was a ‘Mister’ Myles, and not Myles Trent, the Marquis of Hayden.
But as wonderful as those idyllis days in the country were, the Marquis had heard enough as Mister Myles to understand that his father’s worries hadn’t been misguided. He had never before interested himself in the running of Lord Braughton’s many estates, always preferring to guide his father in politics instead, but now his attention was caught. A certain Mr Wenfield, who had rented Hollen Hall from Braughton some years ago was charging its tenants too much and blaming Hayden’s father for the rise in rent. Hayden knows this to be false and decides to investigate. But for that he must leave Anne Whyte and return to his previous life, that of the duty-bound Lord Hayden.
On one hand is the weight of expectations of his family and on the other his heart’s desire. Hayden is fighting hard against his own happiness, but does he really have to?
I have always liked Ms Ferguson’s fictional heroes. They are distinct creatures with realistic demons. In Myles’, Lord Hayden’s, case it was mostly his conviction that as heir he had certain burdens that he would shoulder alone, and if that meant entering a loveless marriage to the daughter of a peer, then that’s what he would do.
Anne Whyte was an intelligent woman with a penchant for the medicinal arts. She is a gentleman’s daughter and a lovely girl. That she was unmarried raised a lot of questions amongst their acquaintances, but if anyone was ill, it was to her they would send them. If some called her witch, she didn’t mind. She laughed it off with her father, who had thoughtfully made provisions to ensure her independence after his demise. It was for him that she worried, and in that worry she turned to Hayden.
Her character was a mix of innocence and practicality. It is an underlying trait in all of Ferguson’s heroines. In the story, she suffers from jealousy, insecurity and hurt, but through it all her introspection shows through. Given time to cool down, she analyses her behaviour and realizes that she never gave him a chance to explain. I think that’s one of my favourite parts. The conclusion. Ferguson does Denouements very, very well. They are never carried through just on drama, but are always softly, sweetly romantic.
Even in her first historical The Honorable Marksley, a book I never enjoyed quite as much as the others, I loved the ending. Not just the resolution, but the conversation, the setting.
It may not seem much to most readers, but for me the ending is everything – it is what leaves that final after taste in my mouth and colours by opinions when I think back on a story. The ending must be treated with respect.
The only reason I deprived this book of a single star was because in its predecessors I had judged Hayden to be a little like another Sidley, and hoped for an indescribable ‘something more’ in his own book. There was something about that character (Lord Sidley) I can’t quite explain, that caught my imagination. But Hayden is his own man and of course his story is very different. It was probably my own expectations that ruined the story a little for me, but I think if I hadn’t read Sidley before this, I would have gladly given it all five stars for the wonderfully smooth reading experience. =D
DISCLAIMER: I have a steady email based friendship with the author, whom I found through goodreads, and when I confided the uncertain state of my finances to her which deprived me of luxuries like buying hardcovers, she sent me a copy of her most recent publication with her regards.