If you’re looking for a fun and frothy Regency romance, then Mr Malcolm’s List will fit the bill perfectly!
Book: Mr Malcolm’s List by Suzanna Allain
Read before: No
Publication date: 28th June 2020.
Ownership: E-ARC provided via NetGalley. All opinions my own.
When handsome bachelor Mr Jeremy Malcolm offends Julia Thistlewaite by rejection her based on measuring her marriageability against a list of strict criteria, she comes up with a plan – ask her old schoolfriend Selina Dalton to pose as the perfect woman, win his affections, and then humiliate him publicly with a rejection. Obviously, when sparks fly between Selina and Malcolm, the plan starts to go a little awry… It’s a well-worn story and one we all know the ending to, but it’s an extremely fun ride!
This is a really quick read – at just over 250 pages, it’s not particularly short for a Regency romance, but it races along without ever pausing. Not a moment is wasted on long self-reflections or extraneous descriptions; Georgette Heyer this is not. It feels more modern in its construction and style than a lot of historical romance, and puts me in mind of nothing so much as the Austenland movie and Ten Things I Hate About You. It’s a fairly irreverent take on the Regency that really focuses more on the rom com side of things than the details of the setting, and I wasn’t at all surprised to find out that it is, in fact, a novelisation of a film (Sort of. There appears to be a short film already, and a feature film on the way – I’m not sure whether book or script was written first, but it’s clear that the book suits a film style first and foremost). It’s not inaccurate in the details it does include (though characters are very quick to move to first-naming!), it just doesn’t seem very interested in them except as a way to move the story along – I enjoyed the lightness and quick pace, but if you’re after something a little more historical feeling, this may not be the book for you.
Selina and Mr Malcolm themselves are pretty much what you would expect – she’s a smart, feisty, idealistic woman the wrong side of twenty, and he’s a softer Mr Darcy with high boots and standards who ends up unexpectedly floored by love. They have plenty of chemistry (though the book never gets steamy) and their conversations sparkle with wit and a real connection. I liked that they fell for each other fairly early on – the drama is pretty low, and hinges more on mishaps and funny scenes than on anything particularly angsty. The secondary characters in this book also really make it amusing, from frenemy Julia (who’s out for vengeance, but has a heart somewhere in there), to droopy lord Cassie (who provides one of the most entertaining scenes in the book when he decides to ‘help’ Selina and Malcolm’s relationship along), to sweet cinnamon roll Mr Ossory. We hit all the tropes of the genre, including a masquerade ball, and it’s all these oddball characters that bring so much joy into what could otherwise be quite paint-by-numbers. There’s one scene that had me absolutely cackling and desperately wishing I had more friends who were familiar with the genre so I could share the hilarious play on the ‘caught being compromised’ trope!
Essentially, Mr Malcolm’s List will suit you if you’re looking for something light-hearted and fun with its tongue firmly in its cheek! It suited me down to the ground – sweet, romantic, witty, and on occasion, laugh-out-loud. It’s a perfect summer read for fans of the genre who don’t take it too seriously, or for those who wish there were more books that read like classic rom coms! It’s a huge amount of fun, and I’ll be very happy to watch the film when it’s out (though at least partly because Sam Heughan’s in it…). Four and a half cats!