Victorian raunch: Tangled Reins

This week TBYL Reviewer Carolyn Jones has been enjoying a bit of raunch in high society, with Tangled Reins, by Stephanie Laurens (Harlequin)…

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I love a bit a raunch in the books I read. I also love Victorian Literature so when I picked up Tangled Reins by Stephanie Laurens, I was more than a little bit excited  – I was pretty sure this book would deliver both. However, to my surprise, I found that there was much more to this story than ripped bodices and beautifully spoken English, and I was very happy to sit back and let Stephanie Laurens take the reins and lead me on a journey through high society of Regency England.

Tangled ReinsMiss Dorothea Darent had no intention of ever getting married – until a dashing stranger with hazel eyes kissed her under a blackberry tree.

Haunted by their kiss, the Marquis of Hazelmere – a notorious scoundrel – was determined to win Dorothea’s heart while she dazzled London socialites. Amidst shocked whispers, he swept Dorothea into her first waltz and sparked the jealous plots of lesser suitors.

Now Dorothea had a choice to make: stick with her plan to stay a respectable spinster, or run into the arms of her dashing stranger…

Nineteenth century England was a time of excess for the aristocracy.  Ruled by the Prince Regent (the future George IV) the young upper class society wiled away the season in high fashion, attending extravagant balls all while trying to attract their most suitable match to prepare them for the rest of their lives.

Tangled Reins is a romance novel and as you might expect, when we meet the two main characters their instant attraction can be felt immediately. The female lead Dorothea, an independent heiress who has reached the ripe old age of 22, is considered to be too old to find a husband (a fact which she doesn’t seem to mind too much).  From the beginning of the novel we understand that Dorothea is an intelligent woman and is perfectly happy in her spinsterhood.  That is until she is literally swept into a blackberry bush and into the seductive arms of the Marquis de Hazelmere.

“Horrified, she felt a sudden warmth rush through her, followed by an almost overwhelming urge to lean into that embrace, clearly poised to become even more passionate if she succumbed. No country admirer had dared kiss her like this!”

regencyInterestingly this novel lacks a strong male competitor for Dorothea’s affection, a character that we would find in most romance literature.  Instead the author drives the romance forward by painting a picture of the mystery and intrigue of why Dorothea and Hazelmere cannot be together.  While I was reading, I kept wondering why they were holding back and then, had to remind myself that although Stephanie Laurens romance is racier than traditional Victorian literature, her story is still set about 200 years ago when single folk had rules to follow in order to maintain their reputation.  The mere idea of pre-marital sex would cause scandal and alarm for readers of the period. For us though, reading about such scandalous behaviour actually happening in Regency England adds a little bit of spice to the novel.

“His response was all she could have wished.  Turning her slightly, Hazelmere swiftly bent his head to drop the most delicate of kisses on her lips.  As he raised his head her eyes opened wide. For one long moment they remained perfectly still, the hazel and green gazes fusing in the moonlight…With infinite care he started her sensual education, his caresses deepening in imperceptible degrees so that her sense were never overwhelmed, but taught, step by steady step, to savour the exquisite delight he created.  His control was absolute and Dorothea, enfolded in his care, for the first time in her life, willingly let go of the reins.”

Stephanie Laurens is a modern day author who has chosen to become an historical romantic novelist.  In her story, Regent England has become Stephanie’s third main character to great effect.  If I could travel back in time, this is where I would program the time machine to take me.  Of course I would need to have the money and status to attend some of these spectacular parties. I would love the elaborate gowns and I’m sure that from all the period dramas I have read and seen on the television I would speak as eloquently as the English – I’d fit in quite well!  The parties, the rides in the park and the fashions are so wonderful to read about that it’s easy to lose oneself in the frivolous ways of the rich. Reading Tangled Reins I was imagining a life of endless money, parties to attend, dreaming to be as attractive as Dorothea. I’d like to think how great I could be if only I could get the time machine working!

Dorothea, our heroine is a very likeable character.  From the outset she claims the only reason she would change her present state would be love… she is content without a ring on her finger.  She is a very strong woman and can master her composure with ease.  She plays hard to get because she wants to be sure that her suitor’s feelings are real. She is independent both in persona and financial status and so is in the fortunate position where she doesn’t have to find a husband to maintain her standard of living.  These attributes only add to her likeability, she’s a character who proves that you don’t need a man to be happy.

Stephanie’s other main character, Hazelmere, is also very agreeable.  The author tells the story through his eyes at times, an unusual choice for a romance novel such as this, especially one set in Victorian England where the male protagonists are typically dark and mysterious.

The attraction between Hazelmere and Dorothea is intense and Laurens illustrates this by describing their eyes; Dorothea’s oversized green eyes and the Marquis’ twinkling hazel set.  I’d have to say that this is one of the areas that could have been improved on – it seemed that both characters’ physical attributes paled in comparison to their orbs.  There are only so may ways in which a writer can describe two people looking at each other and Laurens captures this over and over again and in the same way, perhaps a few too many times!

Tangled Reins is a very easy read, light and romantic, and laden with sexual innuendos.  Rest assured, there are more explicit scenes than other novels written in the time that this book was set, making it more relevant for the modern day reader whilst still capturing the period nicely. The love-struck couple are very well matched both intellectually and physically and so the reader embarks on a time in history where romance is made all the more exciting when one has to compete with other suitors, handle abduction scares and deal with gossip about the sizzling chemistry between the two main characters.  Stephanie Laurens has written several novels set in this time and I think she has done her research well.  I don’t think I will race back to read all of her books, however, if I was on holiday and one of her books came my way, I wouldn’t pass it up.  If historical romances are your favourite genre then I think you will find Tangled Reins well worth a read.

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You can find out more about Tangled Reins, by Stephanie Laurens here…

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