In Sweet Christmas Secrets: A Regency Romance Holiday Anthology
Independently published and available through Amazon
Stephen Hart’s The Widow and Mr Cat is a novella length story in this generous tome of romances by authors Ebony Oaten, Erin Grace, Joanne Austen Brown, Susanne Bellamy, Isabella Hargreaves, Fiona M Marsden, Clyve Rose, Heidi Wessman Kneale and Catherine Bilson.
In keeping with the genre of Regency romance, the story interests itself in manners, witty conversation, fashion, romance and social graces. The finding of a suitable wife or husband is a leading obsession, no doubt for reasons of survival as much as domestic bliss.
In this case Octavius (an Earl) under the firmly managing hand of his aunt Sophronia becomes engaged to the rather tedious Harriet Spencer (of a good family), but when he engages widow Mrs Anne James as a companion for his young sister Sophie, he finds himself irretrievably drawn to her. Into the mix, the author has added the knowing and speaking character of Mr Cat, who finds his way into the Earl’s household after a drunken night out.
Strangely Octavius is able to understand the cat’s speech though no-one else can until Anne James comes onto the scene and can also hear the English-speaking feline. Mr Cat is very much the running commentator in this book, observing the silliness of some aspects of Regency society, the foibles of Stephen Hart’s characters and attempting to direct everyone’s actions to suit his own needs of comfort and a peaceful well-fed life. A stereotypical cat, he assumes he is in charge.
The cat is a clever literary device as well as an entertaining one, so often voicing the thoughts we have as readers. We know because of the genre the inevitability of the ‘right’ ending of this romance, the slow burgeoning of the romance and the fumbles along the way. That is, after all, part of the pleasure of this type of story.
Sailing quietly along underneath this froth and bubble are themes of societal import, not the least of which is the issue of the involvement of the English in slavery, even after it was officially abolished.
Ann James is an anti-slaver, an articulate speaker and, as it turns out, a capable speech-writer and persuasive proponent for action. Octavius, a nervous and unwilling member of the House of Lords, comes good in the end on this score, finally winning the respect of Ann James and, to a certain extent, the reader.
Mr Cat also finds a grudging respect for Ann James and is in the end reconciled to the romantic denouement despite having tried throughout the story to get rid of her. It comes down to a lesser evil.
This is an entertaining story, quirky in conception and written with an easy, light hand. The anthology is billed as holiday reading and there is no doubt that many readers worldwide will be craving just this sort of escape into not merely an idealised past but into a brighter present, where love and romance can win the day.
Stephen’s readers will be pleased to know that the author has himself become enamoured of Mr Cat and feels the need to continue his adventures in at least one more story. I’ll be looking out for it.
This anthology is available in various forms through online publisher and retailer Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Sweet-Christmas-Secrets-Regency-Anthology-ebook/dp/B09C4D7994