…especially for the hero in this case – this girl is unforgettable!
Juliana Paget, heroine of the first of Joan Aiken’s three Paget Family novels might well be just another Regency Miss with the usual romantic hopes of meeting the man of her dreams. But for Juliana her intended beau must of course resemble King Charles the First, whose looks and character she has come to admire as the heroic subject of the Biography she has been assisting her father to write.
( And aside from this undoubted handicap, romance for Juliana will also be hindered, as we discover, by another dreadful fault, or maybe two…)
A perfect heroine, like a fairytale princess, is a rather predictable copybook case, sure to meet her prince, let alone obviously recognise him at first sight. Not so a Joan Aiken heroine – she is likely to have ideas of her own – or in this case ones she has gleaned from reading too many books, like Jane Austen’s Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey – and these ideas will certainly lead her into all kinds of trouble.
What if her romantic expectations deceive her and she doesn’t know who’s friend or foe?
When our heroine, no shrinking violet, has rescued a stranger fleeing from French revolutionaries and 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 she has been 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.’
“Oh what is it?” cried Juliana, terrified. “Is something broken?”
“No,” he growled. “You have stuck your verdommte bodkin into the side of the basket, and it has run very nearly right through my thumb!”
“Oh I am sorry!” she exclaimed repentantly. “It is a dreadful fault that I have, I know! I am always sticking my needle into the arms of chairs…Papa has scolded me for it, times out of mind.”
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, and we are obviously expecting the hero to go down on one knee – does he?
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 a series of Joan Aiken historical Romances
Just published on Kindle by Bello at Macmillan
Read more about Joan Aiken’s rip roaring period novels here