Miranda Neville's third release, The Dangerous Viscount, to be a highly entertaining read. My favorite sub-genre has been, and probably always will be, the Regency-set historical. Neville's books show great respect and affection for the period. In addition, she gives us characters who are usually a step or two removed from the London ballroom for a taste of something a little different. There is both humor and emotion in this book and I worked hard to squeeze in some quality reading time between all the game-watching and quilt-making I've been doing these days. It was worth the effort.
The hero of TDV is Sebastian Iverley, is a shy, bookish, misogynistic young man who has traveled to his uncle's country estate to use the library there. He is dismayed to find that his cousin Blakeney is hosting a small party. One of the ladies' attending the party is a wealthy widow, Lady Diana Fanshawe, who happens to have grown up nearby, and she has set her cap at Blakeney who will one day be a Duke. In spite of himself, Sebastian is strongly attracted to Diana. He is further entranced when he has an opportunity to meet her eccentric, but loving family. Sebastian is shy and socially inept; he doesn't know how to handle this attraction he feels, but he can't help seeking her out. Meanwhile, Diana is the confident, self-possessed half of the pair. See how the normal conventions are turned upside down?
There is a strong undercurrent of dislike between the cousins Sebastian and Blakeney. As a result, Diana finds herself making a bet with Blakeney that she can get Sebastian to kiss her. She succeeds, but her misgivings over the event have her hoping that Sebastian will never find out. Unfortunately, he does learn about the bet (although Diana is unaware) and that reinforces his misogynist attitudes; Sebastian leaves the party abruptly and Diana re-dedicates herself to winning Blakeney.
The action skips forward 6 months. Sebastian's elderly great-uncle has died and Sebastian is now the Viscount Iverley and the possessor of a huge fortune. He returns to his home and book club in London and sets himself to the task of exacting his revenge on Diana for the bet. He goes to his friends (characters from the previous book in this series) for advice. They tutor him on how he should dress and behave in society. Neville's website calls Sebastian "a Regency nerd who is about to get an extreme makeover." That's an apt description. Eventually Sebastian and Diana reconnect and their romance takes place among the deceptions they are both guilty of.
Sebastian and Diana are flawed human beings who must confront their respective wrongs and seek forgiveness. Especially because their relationship has unexpected consequences. In addition, both Sebastian and Diana need to confront Sebastian's past to understand why he is the way he is. All of this is gently and steadily revealed with flawless pacing and engaging secondary characters. I loved how Diana is the "alpha" in this story and how Sebastian learns that women are not the enemy. These two are a well-matched pair and their relationship is highly believable.
Already I'm looking forward to Neville's next book (Aug. 2011?) and hopefully the one after that will be about Diana's wonderful little sister, Minerva. I also think that Neville left room for Blakeney to be redeemed and become the hero of a future book. If you've read this, what do you think?