The picture of innocence, Miss Mabel Anderson, and the sister of a cleric. But many people in her port town of Salford lived in poverty, their only chance at making a decent living being the smuggling trade. Mab inadvertently found herself the leader of this group, but a government agent, Sir Stamford Wicklow, was come to town specifically to discover the leader’s identity—and imprison the villain.
Written by: Joan Smith
First published: 1980
She Said / He Said
This is a first-person book, written from the point of view of the heroine MABEL ANDERSON. We first meet her as she tells us the story of her adventures which started on the death of her father the local magistrate.
When we meet the hero COLONEL SIR STAMFORD WICKLOW it’s at a very tricky point in Mabel’s life. There are instant fireworks between the two of them, though her initial impression of him is good.
This is a book about the gentry – no Dukes, Earls or Viscounts cutting a rakish path through Almacks here! Just a woman trying to avoid the stigma of ‘genteel poverty’ (think Miss Bates in Emma) through her own blood, sweat, and tears.
So what did I like about the book?
Pretty much everything! This has got to be one of my all-time favourite Joan Smith books – full of humour and a wonderful heroine who takes charge of her life when things go bad. In fact, Mabel warns us about that right at the very start:
“Let me issue you a warning before you turn the first page—I am no swooning heroine, equipped with acute sensibilities and a turn for passivity.”
I also liked the descriptions of smuggling and its effects both positive and negative on the English Regency society. Many Regency Romance books will mention smuggling and the ‘gentlemen’, particularly if they’re set on the coast but usually, it is very generic and shallow.
Ms. Smith goes into quite a bit of detail, but in a very natural manner so you are taken along for the ride rather than feeling you’re at a lecture.
The interactions between Mabel and Stamford are also very nicely done – especially when they first meet and he’s in his persona of “Mr. Williams”.
So what did I not like about the book?
It’s really just a small thing – I like getting the hero’s perspective and in a first-person narrative that’s not possible.
And again, there’s not the same level of overt romance that we see in other books – particularly the historical romances. Much of the plot revolves around Mabel’s life as a smuggler and Stamford’s attempts to unmask her – it isn’t until very late in the book that we get kisses and declarations of love.
This is a feature of Joan Smith’s writing though, and so not something that I’m too concerned about. Once you know that is how she writes you can actually spend your time searching out the romance between the characters!
How did I feel at the end?
That’s really the important thing isn’t it? Did I feel the HEA was right? Did I feel happy or disappointed by the misunderstandings? Was I left with a warm and fuzzy feeling or wishing I could get my money back?
The HEA – oh how beautifully that was done! Completely in character for the entire book and for Mabel too.
The misunderstandings were perfectly legitimate – after all the whole plot is based on a woman who is a smuggler falling in love with the man sent to unmask her!
“What a dilemma to find yourself in! A perfectly eligible gentleman falling in love with you, and eligible gentlemen as scarce as hens’ teeth here in Salford. How fine to be able to attach him! But it was impossible. Only to think, had I not been Miss Sage, I might be instead Lady Mabel Wicklow before many months.”
And ultimately I was definitely left with a warm and fuzzy feeling – as I said earlier, this is one of my all-time favourite Joan Smith books. No refunds for me thank you!
Want to read more Joan Smith books? My reviews on all her books are here.