“Oh I am sorry…it is a dreadful fault I have…”
Juliana Paget might be just another Regency Miss with romantic hopes of meeting the man of her dreams – and in this case he must of course resemble King Charles the First, heroic subject of the Biography she has been assisting her father to write – but aside from this handicap, romance for Juliana is hindered by another dreadful fault…
A perfect heroine, like a fairytale princess, is a copybook case, sure to meet her prince, let alone obviously recognise him at first sight. A Joan Aiken heroine is likely to have ideas of her own – or in this case ones she has gleaned from books, like Jane Austen’s Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey – and which will lead her into all kinds of trouble.
What if she doesn’t know who’s friend or foe?
When our heroine, having rescued a stranger fleeing from French revolutionaries is then being rescued right back by him, and borne away to safety in a hot air balloon, he naturally enough tries to clasp her in his arms.
But while helpfully mending one of the tapestries he is carrying over the channel to the Prince Regent at Brighton – for naturally:
“She carried a housewife full of needles and thread in her reticule and hated to be idle”
– she has inadvertently mislaid a spare needle…
” He let out a most appalling oath, fortunately in Dutch.”
And does she learn from her mistake? Of course not. Joan Aiken is able to use this as a handy plot twist a couple more times, so that when the proposal scene finally arrives, does the hero go down on one knee? Absolutely not, as he understandably says:
” It’s odds but you’ve left a needle sticking somewhere in that grass!”
And is he the one who looks exactly like King Charles the First?
You’ll have to read it and find out…!
The Smile of the Stranger is the first of four Joan Aiken Romances
being reprinted by Sourcebooks this year
Read more about Joan Aiken’s rip roaring period novels here
And an interview with Sourcebooks Editor and Aiken fan Deb Werksman