A good Regency romance usually has several standard elements: an emphasis on good manners and high society, activities Jane Austen would have been familiar with (carriage rides, dinners, garden walks), and a hint of mystery. Sarah E. Ladd's The Curiosity Keeper features a headstrong heroine and a humble gentleman navigating their class differences and a quest for a stolen ruby which takes them from the gritty, gaslit streets of London to the pastoral countryside.
Camille Iverness was raised on her grandfather's country estate, but when her mother deserted her family to return to her native Portugal, Camille and her father returned to London, where together they ran a curiosity shop full of mysterious treasures valued by "collectors" - people like explorer and gambler Ian Gilchrist, whose mansion, Kettering Hall, houses a study packed with treasures. When the story opens, Ian has summoned his son, James, in the middle of the night: a precious family heirloom, the large rare ruby known as the Bevoy, is missing. When Ian and a family friend travel to London to investigate, they discover a crime in progress at the curiosity shop - the shop is being ransacked and Camille is being attacked. Concerned for Camille's safety, James finds her a position at a charity boarding school in the countryside town where he prefers working as an apothecary to lording over the estate he stands to inherit - if the ruby is found.
It took a few chapters for me to really get into The Curiosity Keeper, but I did enjoy following along with James and Camille as they searched for the missing ruby and became more and more intrigued by each other. Camille is not a typical Regency heroine - she prefers ancient art to drawing-room drama, and while she is kind, she isn't naive. Ladd creates a foil for Camille in James' sister, Penelope, whose dowry and social standing depend on the Bevoy being found. Rather than being a villain, Penelope's values are very much aligned with the society in which she was raised, in contrast with Camille's purer motives. Despite a few typographical errors, I found The Curiosity Keeper easy to read once I was engrossed in Camille's dilemma - to trust James, or to be loyal to a father who may cast her aside.
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