By Jo Beverley
Publisher: ePublishing Works
Release Date: July 12 2013
(Print edition released in 1992)
Leander Knollis, Earl of Charrington, was born in Istanbul, and, as the son of an English diplomat, he has spent most of lie abroad. But having survived Vitoria, Toulouse, and Waterloo, he has returned to England with a sense of his own mortality and a determination to settle down with a congenial wife. His problem is that all the eligible maidens he has met persist in falling in love with him, and Leander believes himself incapable of romantic love. Leaving the lovelorn misses in London, Leander sets out for Hartwell, the Surrey cottage where his friend Lucien de Vaux, Marquess of Arden, and his wife Beth are still enjoying newlywed bliss. Some might be reluctant to intrude, but Lee, as he is known to his friends, belongs to the Company of Rogues, and he is certain of a welcome from a fellow rogue. Not only is he welcomed, but Beth has a suggestion of a prospective bride, one certain not to fall in love with him.
Judith Rossiter is not the typical candidate for the bride of an earl. The daughter of a poor curate with a large family and the widow of a popular poet, she doesn’t move in aristocratic circles. Since her husband’s income ended with his death, she is dependent on a small quarterly sum provided by her brother-in-law. It barely covers the cost of the tiny cottage where she lives with her two children, Bastian, 11, and Rosie, 6. Judith is hoping to find the funds to provide at least a meager Christmas for her children. Known as the Weeping Widow because her love story, thanks to her husband’s poems which celebrated his “angel bride,” is the stuff of legends, Judith's identity as the woman eternally mourning Sebastian Rossiter is frozen in popular imagination. Therein lies her appeal for Lee. If she is still in love with husband, she can’t fall in love with him.
Judith thinks Leander is mad when he proposes, but marriage to him would solve all her economic problems. Bastian could have a pony, Rosie could have a pink silk dress, and their futures would be secure. All she has to do is keep secret the fact that her love story is a myth. The infatuation she felt as a romantic sixteen-year-old didn’t last, and she was left with a man so absorbed in his poems and his image as a poet that he was a poor father and a poorer husband. She’s not the only one with secrets. Lee has not shared his concerns about the family problems at Temple Knollis, his grandfather’s obsession and one of the most beautiful houses in England, a house Lee was brought up to hate. With all these secrets, the adjustments of a new marriage with children, and the frightening and unexpected threats to Bastian’s life, things grow more complicated daily. Not least of the complications are the feelings Judith and Lee are developing for each other, feelings far stronger and more complex than the tepid affection they expected. Can they find their way through the maze of tangled emotions and secrets to honesty, love, and a happy family Christmas?
Christmas Angel is the third book in Beverley’s famous Company of Rogues series. Some readers think it is overshadowed by An Arranged Marriage (Nicholas and Eleanor’s story) and An Unwilling Bride (Lucien and Beth’s story), which precede it, and by Forbidden (Francis and Serena’s story), which immediately follows it. Christmas Angel is less dramatic than these other books, but it has its own charms. I like stories with children who are more than props, and it seems especially appropriate that they have a part in a Christmas story. I like the practical marriage turned love match plot. I find Lee and Judith likeable, endearing characters, and I especially enjoy the fact that Beverley allows her readers to glimpse what Christmas was like for people in different circumstances. AND I love the very Christmassy HEA ending.
The Company of Rogues is one of my all-time favorite series. I read each book as it was released, eagerly anticipating each addition to the series and rereading them often. (I’m thrilled that Beverley’s 2014 book, A Shocking Delight, is set in the Rogues’ world.) I have a difficult time imagining Christmas Angel apart from the other books, but I think it can be read as a standalone. A reader approaching it without benefit of the earlier books might not understand the particular nature of the Rogues’ friendships or welcome the appearance of Lucien and Beth and Nicholas and Eleanor with the delight of series fans, but there sould be no difficulty in following the main story.
I’m happy that Beverley has made the first three Rogue books available in e-format. (Forbidden was supposed to be available in August, but it does not show up on Amazon.) These Christmas in September reviews have been contemporaries, and, as much as I love them, my Christmas reading would be incomplete without historical romance. I recommend not only Christmas Angel but also Winter Fire, part of Beverley’s Malloren series and a book I’ve read each Christmas season since it was first released in 2003. I love spending a few hours of my Christmas at Rothgar Abbey.
Have you met Beverley’s Rogues? Who’s your favorite? Have you engaged in the controversies surrounding the first two?
You can find all the Company of Rogues books listed here with a brief description of each.