Terrific, humorous, Regency novel
Reading Level: Young Adult
Release Date: originally published in April 1987
Publisher: St Martins
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry
This is the first of six books in the Regency-romance series, “A House for the Season.” The complete series is:
- The Miser of Mayfair, the First Volume
- Plain Jane, the Second Volume
- The Wicked Godmother, the Third Volume
- Rake’s Progress, the Fourth Volume
- The Adventuress, the Fifth Volume
- Rainbird’s Revenge, the Sixth Volume
This first book sets up the central core of this series. A group of servants, for various personal reasons, are miserably bound to their employment at Number 67 Clarges Street in London’s Mayfair, a house notorious for being unlucky and haunted because a past owner, the Duke of Pelham, hung himself there, and a woman who lived there was murdered. The current extremely wealthy Duke of Pelham pays no attention to this property, leaving its disposition–including the salaries of the servants that go with it–completely at the discretion of Jonas Palmer, the duke’s agent. Unfortunately, Palmer is a bully and an embezzler. He tells the duke he is paying good wages to the staff, but actually gives them barely enough money to survive on and pockets the difference. This constant state of poverty makes it impossible for them to fulfill their heart’s desire, to buy an inn and run it as a group.
This plan feels quite workable to the staff because over the years they have banded together and formed a family of affiliation, headed by the 30-something butler, Rainbird, a former acrobat, magician and juggler. Rainbird is clever, kind and helpful to every decent person who comes into his orbit, not merely the staff, but tenants of the house.
The rest of the staff include a housekeeper named Mrs. Middleton, whose “Mrs.” is an honorary title since she is a middle-aged spinster born to an impoverished curate; a brilliant chef who is a barbaric Scotsman named Angus MacGregor; a handsome, vain, and cowardly footman named Joseph; a chambermaid and skilled seamstress named Jenny; a beautiful, languorus, blond housemaid named Alice whom Rainbird frequently has to protect from lecherous guests; a sweet, innocent, teenage scullery maid named Lizzie, and the preteen pot boy, Dave, a former climbing boy whom Rainbird rescued from a cruel chimney sweep.
The staff of Number 67 Clarges Street are overjoyed when they hear they are to get tenants, only to learn that Mr. Roderick Sinclair, a middle-aged man with a beautiful, young ward named Fiona, is a terrible miser and refuses to entertain–depriving the staff of the “vails” (tips) which could augment their meager wages. But all is not as it seems with the presumably empty-headed Fiona, fortunately for the staff.
As always, this book, like all of Marion Chesney’s Regencies, has a strong touch of the bizarre in its comedy, which can be quite startling to the uninitiated, and quite funny when you get used to it. Also, in spite of the many oddball events in her romances, Chesney does a great job of authentically portraying the Regency era, and her main characters are always sympathetic. In this series, the family of servants led by Rainbird are a terrific throughline linking it together. Every one of them, even vain Joseph, grows across the series, and each is lovable in his/her way. And the two lovers in this particular book are quite sympathetic. Finding out what Fiona is really like, compared to what everyone has always thought of her–until meeting Rainbird and crew–is an amazing experience.
I read this book as a Kindle edition. It is well formatted and edited, making it easy to read.
I rate this book as follows:
Rainbird and Crew: 4
Historical World-Building: 5
Romance Plot: 4