August’s TBR Challenge theme is “Impulse Read” (an impulse buy book) so I turned to my Kindle app, aka “Where Impulse Buys Go to Die.” Not because they’re bad–I found some pleasant surprises browsing my relatively small Kindle library. But I’ve learned I don’t really like reading on my phone or iPad, so my Kindle buys are all Kindle-only sale books I bought on impulse and then forgot about. (I know I can convert them to ePub, but I’m lazy). I wanted something fun, so I chose Cupid’s Mistake, a not-quite-traditional Regency by Karen Harbaugh.
In her Author’s Note, Harbaugh explains that her approach to the Regency subgenre was inspired by Heyer, who wrote both more serious and lighter books, incorporating elements from other genres like mystery. Harbaugh’s more “serious” books included paranormal elements (her Vampire Viscount really is one) and readers complained they weren’t “real” Regencies. So she decided
“I’ll find every single cliché I’ve ever read in a Regency romance and stuff them all in the next book I write. That’ll show them!”
Except a fantasy element still snuck in.
As a result, here is my comedy of manners that contains a bluestocking spinster, cynical nobleman, meddling sister, and matchmaking mama, all of whom are involved in one misunderstanding or other. Oh, and yes, there’s a Greek god in there too.
The result is a fluffy, funny, featherweight confection, from which Cupid, I suspect, will prove the most memorable character.
The Marquess of Blytheland is a young widower whose unhappy marriage was a result of Cupid’s mistake: the god of love picked the wrong moment to shoot his arrow, and Blytheland was looking at the wrong woman. Now he believes he can neither love nor be loved; “he had given up too much of himself when he married [Chloe],” and he won’t let that happen again.
Cassandra Hathaway is the plain-speaking, bluestocking spinster Cupid intended for Blytheland. She hasn’t been very interested in marriage: “I have no guarantee that my husband would be a good man. Why should I risk possible unhappiness when I can logically, sensibly choose the happy life I know already?” Meeting the Marquess makes her reconsider. They’re perfect for each other: intelligent, passionate, lovers of music. But can all Cupid’s arrows be enough to soften Blytheland’s heart? (Well, of course–at least with the addition of Cassandra’s charms).
Cupid appears here as Cassandra’s little sister Psyche’s imaginary friend “Harry,” her childhood rendition of Eros. Only Psyche can see him, and she’s not too sure she approves of his meddling ways. His friendship with Psyche helps him understand mortals better, going from someone who thinks he can make it “as if the whole incident with Chloe [Blytheland’s marriage] had never happened” to considering that he might be capable of error when it comes to the human heart. (A glance at the cover of the third book in the Cupid trilogy gives you a hint of where this friendship might be going, if Psyche’s name didn’t).
Harbaugh made her characters more than their tropes, even as she had fun playing with those. Blytheland’s hurt and anger and Cassandra’s discomfort in society and fear of saying the wrong thing felt real. I liked them.
I’m not a fan of Misunderstandings, and they got a bit tiresome in Cupid’s Mistake (especially the one that’s a gender-reversed version of the super annoying Big Mis in Heyer’s Nonesuch). I could have done with less heroine blushing, too (although I think this is meant to be a joke–even Cassandra is annoyed by how much she blushes). At the same time, this hero and heroine are believably people who are too full of self-doubt and too uncertain of their feelings to talk openly with each other. And Psyche and Harry are believably people who would meddle in all the wrong ways, she because she’s too young and he because he’s not human enough to really understand what the lovers are feeling.
There is a lot of funny stuff here. I especially liked Psyche’s concern about how Harry will punish Blytheland for the arrogance of resisting his arrows. Thanks to her Classical scholar father, Psyche knows that Harry’s family does things like turn people into trees or chain them to rocks to be “eaten by vultures.” She comforts herself by remembering that there are no vultures in England.
There were ducks, though. She tried to envision death by duck, but it did not seem very much the same as death by vulture, somehow.
On the more serious side, I liked the description of Cassandra and Blytheland playing a duet; their feelings for each other come out when they’re caught up in the music:
The music from the pianoforte twined around his own and pressed itself against him until Blytheland almost gasped and drew his bow across his violin with greater force in defense.
This is a self-published release of a backlist title (originally published by Signet) and I hope the rest of the trilogy eventually appears. I’d like to see more of Harry and Psyche. In the meantime, I have Vampire Viscount in the Impulse TBR. I discovered Harbaugh thanks to Olivia Waite, who said Harbaugh’s mixing of genres inspired her.