Going into A Little Folly, the Regency era novel by Jude Morgan, I thought the book could go either way for me based on the fact that it's drawn comparisons to both Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. Obviously I love the former, but the only novel I read by the latter didn't necessarily leave me clamouring for more. Then I read the opening sentence of A Little Folly and was reassured. "Sir Clement Carnell's ruling passing, until the very last moment of his life, was his passion for ruling" sets a tone of gentle, ironic social observation and commentary that's very much in the vein of Austen herself.
As the start of the novel, Sir Clement Carnell has just died. During his life he was strict to the point of cruelty, closely controlling every aspect of the lives of his son and daughter, Valentine and Louisa. Now, at their own disposal for the first time, the siblings decide to start to "live life". Small acts of independence, like removing an ugly screen from the sitting room, soon lead to bigger ones, like rekindling relations with London relatives who were estranged from Sir Clement and, eventually, making an extended visit to London, where they quickly become swept up in the bustling social scene. Although both siblings are equally inexperienced, Louisa is the more cautious and sensible of the two, and she soon begins to realize that some of the "little follies" she and Valentine have caused have the potential to permanently harm their social standing.
The strength of this novel seems to be the way in which it makes nod to elements from predecessors like Austen's novels, but takes those elements in new directions that feel fresh, not predictable. This is especially true when it comes to romantic entanglements. Present among the cast of characters is the Carnell's stern and aloof neighbor, who also happens to be handsome and wealthy; Valentine's slightly older best friend, who exudes good sense and sarcastic humor; and a brooding but charming solider. It's not surprise that all three are set up as potential matches for Louisa. What is surprising is that I had a hard time predicting which one would prevail until at least about two-thirds of the way through the story. Morgan (which is actually the nom de plume of Tim Wilson!) certainly seems to know how to craft an intriguing romantic plot.
Are you a fan of Regency novels? Have you read anything by Jude Morgan?