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Louise Allen on the BBC, discussing Mills and Boon’s 100th Birthday. (third from left)

The Society Catch, by Louise Allen

I found this novel at my local library’s used book store last month, after reading another book by Ms Allen, and being the curious cat that I am, I bought it. With one thing and another (I still blame Lisabea, by the way), the poor thing ended lost in the TBR mountain until yesterday. But it was, I think, a good thing, because I ended up liking it quite a bit.

Here’s the (misleading, as always) back cover blurb:

Running away from Love

Miss Joanna Fulgrave has turned herself into the perfect society catch to be worthy of dashing Colonel Giles Gregory. But all her hard effort to improve herself comes to nothing when it looks as if Giles is about to propose—to someone else!

Deciding that bad behaviour is infinitely more attractive than perfection, Joanna flees her shocked family. Giles is hot on her trail, determined to catch her and bring her safely home. But will he be as determined to make her his bride?

When we meet her, Joanna has spent three years suppressing her somewhat rebellious nature, and working to become a paragon worthy of the man she thinks of as her future husband, Giles Gregory. When it seems that he’s intent on marrying someone else, Joanna’s dreams shatter and her imagined future is no longer possible, leaving her adrift in a world in which well intentioned parents are willing to marry her off to someone she barely knows—provided he’s titled and well off, of course.

The blurb would have the reader believe that Joanna is yet another irritatingly feisty miss (read: self absorbed spoiled brat). Truthfully, the character is much more likable and realistic than that. It’s true that, like many romance heroines before her, Joanna reacts first by no longer behaving like the positive model of virginal modesty and decorum everyone around her has come to expect, and later, when pressured to accept the marriage offer of a man whose manner scares and disgusts her, she runs away instead. Interestingly, though, Joanna doesn’t simply stamp her dainty foot, cry her heart out, and run away in the middle of the night without even a destination, let alone practical considerations, in mind.

Contrary to the usual run of the Regency misses, Joanna plans her escape with care, and it’s only circumstances truly beyond her imagination—given her upbringing—that foil her first attempt. Her second has much better results, and her third… But that’s probably revealing too much of the plot. Suffice it to say that at twenty, Joanna displays quite a good deal of sense on practical matters, even if she’s stubbornly trying to swim against the current of society’s accepted rules. Her inner dialogue is realistic and appropriate for someone of her age, experience and station.

Giles is a well realized character for the most part. An army officer both by inclination and family tradition, he finds himself at a crossroads in life. The wars are over, his father’s health is declining, and Giles is ready to change course. How to accomplish this in the face of his father’s cantankerous disposition is what he should be pondering. Instead, and mostly to avoid obsessing over things he really can’t change, Giles lets himself be roped into fetching Joanna back home, whereupon hijinks ensue. Frankly, my only complaint regarding this character would be the somewhat anachronistic** sensibilities he displays a few times through the book.

The shenanigans between these two are both funny and unlikely—it is very difficult to believe some of their conversations would actually have happened between a gently reared young lady and a well educated gentleman of their time. However, Ms Allen gets around this through the set up to these discussions, doing so in a way that allowed me to suspend my disbelief for the most part. And really, the scrapes Joanna gets Giles into are funny on their own merit (at one point she unwittingly manages to knock him out cold. You go, girl!)

There are a few secondary characters, most of which are more sketches—based on both Joanna’s and Giles’s perceptions—than developed individuals in their own right. Even Joanna’s parents stand more as abstract entities than real people; perhaps because only her mother has any actual “screen time,” or perhaps because most of their actions and decisions serve no other purpose but to motivate Joanna’s reactions. The notable exceptions are Joanna’s cousin, Hebe, and her husband Alex, who happens to be Giles’ best friend. Not surprisingly, it turns out that these two are the protagonists of Ms Allen previous novel, The Earl’s Intended Wife, as well as the occasion for Giles and Joanna first meeting.

Later in the book there are a couple of jarring notes, too out of character to be nothing but a contrivance to bring on a climactic scene between Joanna, her suitor, and Giles. (There is no logical reason Joanna wouldn’t read her mother’s note immediately—particularly not after fretting for days over her parents’ reaction to her running away. It just doesn’t wash.)

While there are still certain stereotypes being played in this one, I liked it much better than Virgin Slave, Barbarian King by Ms Allen. Mostly, I truly liked both main characters and therefore it was easier to suspend my disbelief at some of the story’s more unlikely twists.

**Definitely more appropriate for the late twentieth century than the nineteenth.

7.5 out of 10

1 Comment »

  • Barbara B.
    March 22
    1:39 pm

    Thanks for the review, AztecLady.


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