A Wild Pursuit
Eloisa James
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A Wild Pursuit
Eloisa James
416 pages
February 2004
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Eloisa James’A Wild Pursuit is a wickedly amusing romp that takes place during the Regency era. Rather than focusing on the usual rounds of glittery balls and fresh, young debutantes, James shows us another side of the fashionable ton: The scandalous side. This book is a comedy of errors worthy of Shakespeare, and it all takes place at the country estate of Infamous Esme, Lady Rawlings.

Stephen Fairfax-Lacy is a respected Member of Parliament and a gentleman. But after ten years of championing the rights of the common man in Parliament, Stephen feels drained and tired of fighting an uphill battle. Unable to bring about the kinds of changes he believes in, Stephen feels like a failure. It’s the only reason he can use to justify attending a country house party while Parliament is still in session. Stephen convinces himself that he needs a wife, but for now what he really needs in a mistress. And what better place to find one than at a house party given by Infamous Esme.

Lady Beatrix Lennox, daughter of the Duke of Wintersall, is also at the house party as she is the companion of Esme’s aunt, Arabella. Three years earlier, Beatrix was discovered in a compromising position at a ball that caused her family to disown her. She is now considered scandalous and unmarriageable. Beatrix sees no reason why she shouldn’t live up to her reputation as a vixen and goes after whatever and whomever she wishes.

Lady Esme Rawlings is a widow with an outrageous reputation of her own, but now that she is a pregnant widow she is determined to become respectable. Suppressing her wild, exuberant nature, she tries desperately to become what society expects of a virtuous woman. However, Sebastian, the Marquess of Bonnington, is determined to marry Esme at any cost and no matter the scandal. He even masquerades as a gardener on Esme’s estate so he can be near her.

Rounding out the cast of major characters at the house party is Helene, Countess Godwin, who has lived apart from her husband for the most of the last decade and Arabella, Viscountess Withers, the thrice-widowed, but still spectacular and daring aunt, who has invited everyone to her niece’s for the house party. An assortment of interesting minor players complete the guest list.

What follows are outrageous games of seduction and shocking behavior. Helene uses Stephen to try and goad her husband into a divorce, Esme announces that Stephen is her fiancée in order to discourage the persistent Sebastian, and Beatrix finds herself truly attracted to Stephen. In spite of the fact that at one point Stephen ends up with two mistresses and a fiancée, the characters are likeable and indeed charming. Whether trying to attract a certain man or make another jealous, these ladies know what they want and are not afraid to reach for it.

While Beatrix and Stephen, according to the back cover of the book, are supposed to be the main characters of the story, it is as much Esme’s and Sebastian’s story as well. The novel goes back and forth between both couples as well as encompassing Lady Helene. In spite of this intricate interweaving of plots, the story works well. It is a testament to the writing skill of James that she pulls it off so effortlessly. Once the reader understands that this is more of an ensemble piece than a straightforward story of a single couple, the only thing to do is sit back and enjoy the read.

Eloisa James has written a novel of wit and style. All the threads of the story are pulled together at the end with the exception of Helene, who is the subject of another book entitled Your Wicked Ways. It is all done so skillfully, that although their actions are morally questionable at times, you can’t help but take delight in the story and all the unusual, but memorable, characters.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Norma Collins, 2004

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