The Hourglass
Barbara Metzger
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The Hourglass
Barbara Metzger
Signet Eclipse
352 pages
March 2007
rated 5 of 5 possible stars
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This book is definitely different from your average Regency romance: there's an element of fantasy in it. Our hero, who meets the heroine at the Battle of Waterloo, is actually a Knight from the Crusades. He's been working as one of Satan's Grim Reapers for the last 500 years but wants a chance to atone for his sins as a Knight by living on earth again as a human and doing good deeds with all the wealth that he has amassed. He bargains with Satan and wins - he gets six months as a human, and if he can find the special hourglass Satan has put on earth, he can live his full lifespan.

Despite the theoretically rather dark and disturbing initial content (Satan, death, grim reapers), this book is actually funny - not laugh-out-loud, but it has a lot of amusing one-liners, and the characters are great. Our heroine, Genie, a pregnant widow shunned by good ladies since her husband's death, is wonderfully pragmatic. She meets Ardeth and knows there's something distinctly odd about him (he seems to have a few magical powers, speaks strangely and doesn't know some basic things, like how to eat with a knife and fork), but she also sees that he is genuine in his attempts to help and care for others, and she throws in her lot with him.

Poor Ardeth, however, believes that to be noble and moral he has to allow Genie her full year's mourning for her dead husband, despite the fact that he marries her by chapter four of the book. Genie doesn't have any affection for her late husband and feels that she has no way of repaying Ardeth his kindness except through conjugal rights - which he won't accept. Ardeth knows he only has six months on earth, and he wants to set Genie up for a happy future with her son, but equally he knows that will mean he won't get to consummate his marriage because six months isn't long enough. This element of tension, however, doesn't take over the story - the seduction side of this book is very much left to the reader's imagination without any detailed descriptions of love scenes.

We follow the couple's introduction into the haute ton in England, Ardeth's attempt to bring about a reconciliation between Genie and her sister, Lorraine, and later with her family. We see attempts made on both Genie's and Ardeth's lives and their establishment of a community at Ardeth Keep. Ardeth's charitable works are an important part of the book and one of the ways in which he tries to atone for his past sins.

The love story aspect is very gently written. There's no annoying 'big misunderstanding' or hatred between the characters; we simply follow them as they slowly get to know one another and as Ardeth begins to learn what's important in this new life. Genie is astonishing, with her ability to see beyond the apparent strangeness of her husband to the honorable and kind man, and the crow Olive - really a gremlin - with his intelligence and speech is an enjoyable side character.

Regency purists won't like the fantasy element of this book. However, the historical detail is well-researched and the language is mostly authentic (apart from some modern American phrases that creep in). For those who are willing to read a little outside the Regency norm, this is an enjoyable book.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Helen Hancox, 2007

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