The Season by Sophia Holloway – a lovely Regency novel of misunderstandings, deep feelings and gentle humour

The Season by Sophia Holloway

Anyone who has read any books set in the Regency period, or seen a drama set in the time frame, will know that “The Season” is when young women are introduced to society and potential husbands by older women. In the case of Henrietta, the main protagonist of this novel, as her mother died many years before, she is to be introduced by Lady Elstead along with her own daughter Caroline. From the first, her ladyship has compiled a list of suitors that would be worthy of Henrietta, who will be a significant heiress as well as a beautiful woman. Understandably she has more ambition for her own daughter, and like any other sponsoring lady she has a few ideas of how to effect the best introductions and give the girls the best chance. Henrietta has been brought up with her father and his godson, the slightly older and local Lord Charles Henfield. While she always treated him as a brother, it is possible that they have both developed feelings for each other that go beyond the sibling relationship, but neither can really articulate that before the Season begins. As in many books in this genre, misunderstandings and mistakes occur, but Henrietta is an original and unusual heroine who speaks her mind, and there is so much humour and feeling in this book, I was really pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this novel.

Holloway has done an excellent job setting very real and relatable people in a carefully drawn and accurate setting. Not that the immense amount of research behind this novel ever stalls or slows the narrative; Holloway is aware of the alternative attractions of the Season apart from set piece balls and parties, the less formal meetings that can have a real impact on budding relationships. Not that she keeps all the focus on the female characters and their progress; Holloway draws excellent pictures of the men who turn up in London at this time, showing various levels of enthusiasm for the possibilities of finding a wife. Like Henrietta in her secret feelings from the beginning of the novel, Charles feels a little at sea in a situation that he ought to be comfortable with based on his age and experience. Caroline’s story is by turns funny and heartfelt, innocent and surprising, affecting various generations and participants in the social whirl of the intense time of social interactions.

I thought this was a lovely story, right from Henrietta’s initial nervousness at going to London as a new experience, but also leaving her beloved father and all she has ever known. I liked the way that she didn’t realise how different and therefore attractive she was in her honest reactions to the attentions of the men around her. Her loyalty to her friend is touching, amidst all her own secret feelings for one person and her confusion about what is happening. She is trying to be grown up and appear confident but is so well drawn as really nervous of what she is doing. Charles is at sea for much of the novel but takes advice from some surprising sources and is willing to act for everyone’s advantage. This is a really enjoyable, sometimes surprising, always lovely read, and I thoroughly recommend it as a satisfying historical romance in so many ways.  

Kingscastle by Sophia Holloway – a wonderful historical novel of discovery, humour and romance

Allison and Busby

Kingscastle by Sophia Holloway

There are some books I want to read in one sitting, because I am enjoying them so much. This book, set in the early part of the nineteenth century with the end of the Napoleonic wars, features such wonderful characters that I did not want it to end. Many people enjoy novels set in this pre Victorian era, a genre made fashionable by Georgette Heyer, and this one is a super example of that popular type of book. It features a tall dark hero – one Captain William Hawksmoor – a genuinely awful female – Lady Willoughby Hawksmoor – and romantic possibilities. There is adventure, a community at risk, and a sophisticated plot of misunderstandings amid genuine danger. I enjoyed the details of clothes, the countryside setting with some significant houses, and most of all the dialogue, whether waspish, witty or just plain clever. There is an ill-treated heroine, some “capable” women, and so much to enjoy in this book of manners, romance and the problems of coping with new challenges in life. The research which provides the scaffolding is present, but never interrupts the narrative. I was so very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this wonderful book.  

When the book begins William is astonished to receive a visit from a lawyer, Mr Tideswell, with the news that he is now the fifth Marquis of Athelney, heir to the title and vast estates. After all, he is the younger son of a youngest son, and had never thought that he would inherit, but there have been a series of deaths that have led to this point. He is further surprised to hear that in order to be able to act without trustees he must marry and produce a male heir within a certain time. It seems at the very least he must take command of his estates and embark on a new way of life from his naval career, which he has followed since the age of fifteen. He accompanies the lawyer to London in a hired coach previously beyond his means as a half pay naval officer in a time of peace, and is supplied with the clothes, the valet and an indication of how his life is to be lived. 

His arrival at his main estate of Kingscastle is notable for his bewilderment at the sheer size of his house, his staff, and the requirements of having a substantial number of tenants and others who are dependent upon him. His first encounter with his fearsome aunt, the Dowager Lady Willoughby, is a surprise, if only because of her whole attitude to him and her surprising determination that he should immediately marry the girl she has selected for him. Fortunately he has spotted another young woman, an underpaid companion who is far more interesting than the rather insipid Charlotte, Eleanor Burgess, but no one is seriously suggesting her as a potential bride. Her ladyship is indeed determined that they will be kept apart, and there is nothing she will not do, even in the face of an emergency, to prevent any unauthorised romance. 

One of the delights of this book is the battle that Lady Willoughby puts up to bend everyone and everything to her will. Even when so many things are at risk, she continues her appalling behaviour. I get the impression that the author really enjoyed creating and maintaining this character and her authoritarian manner. The other characters are so well written and consistent, including the lovely Harry Bitton and the resourceful Anne Greenham. I thoroughly recommend this novel to all who enjoy historical fiction with an element of romance, and I will be eagerly seeking out Holloway’s other novels. 

'I have to get married'