Bookworm, writer, radio host—I blog about history, fiction, and publishing in the Internet Age. You can find the full blog on my website. This space is for books.
I've read this book many times, and I'm always impressed with its emotional subtlety and richness. It's not a standard romance (and this from a writer whom many consider the Queen of Regency Romance, which disappoints some readers). Adam Deveril is yanked out of the British Army just as it is making real progress against Bonaparte (circa 1814), because his father has died in an accident on the hunting field, leaving the family finances in chaos and Adam as the next viscount.
Adam, a conscientious sort, realizes he cannot marry the woman he loves and eventually agrees to a marriage of convenience with Jenny, the daughter of a London merchant whose business skills are remarkable but whose style hardly fits an aristocratic drawing room. Fortunately, Jenny herself has enjoyed the benefit of an elite education, but she is neither a beauty nor socially comfortable like Adam's discarded love. Yet this ill-matched pair work hard to build their marriage, eventually discovering they are perhaps not so ill-matched after all.
The book includes certain features that seem outmoded now, although they fit both the time in which it was written (late 1950s) and the time it portrays. Most notably, Jenny offsets her plebeian birth and wins Adam's heart by her dedication to making him comfortable, whatever the cost to herself. The assumption that class and breeding are inextricable also evokes an older way of looking at life, and there are flashes of prejudice that made this reader's teeth clench. But Adam and Jenny are sympathetic if far from perfect characters, and their love story—in a way almost unique for a Heyer novel—is developed in a realistic and touching way. If you like sweet books about male-female relationships that don't settle for easy answers, A Civil Contract is for you.