Wed
Jul 20 2011 2:00pm

The Light and Dark Sides of Historical Author Deborah Simmons

The Devil Earl by Deborah SimmonsWhen I talked to Megan about my Harlequin Historicals Reissues: Hitting the Motherlode article, she suggested I consider writing about Ruth Langan’s MacAlpin Sisters trilogy as well as an article—possibly two—about Deborah Simmons, an author I’ve championed online since 1996.

Perhaps an article about her Regency-set historicals, including The Vicar’s Daughter, The Last Rogue, The Devil Earl, and The Gentleman Thief and another on her lengthy De Burgh family series? But what about Simmons’ jumping the shark in more recent years, after being dropped by Harlequin before finishing the Medieval De Burgh series?

About that last I actually cannot comment as, embarrassed that I am to cop to it, I’ve not read anything by her in many years. The Vicar’s Daughter and The Last Rogue are two of my all-time favorites, I’m a big fan of The Devil Earl, The Gentleman Thief, and Taming the Wolf, and I own almost all of her books save the new ones. But I’ve not actually read anything by her in nearly a decade. And yet I can write with ease about the books I mentioned, because they were so very good that I’ve returned to them many, many times over the years. And so I will.

***

The Vicars Daughter by Deborah SimmonsLord Wycliffe Had Finally Met His Match

With golden hair and eyes of sprintgime green, Charlotte Trowbridge was the toast of the London Season. “An incomparable goddess” her dazzling admirers proclaimed. But the earl of Wycliffe knew she was only a vicar’s daughter, wit the taste of heaven on her lips...!

Methodical. Logical. Orderly. Charlotte would also have to add devilishly handsome to her description of Lord Wycliffe. Still, the man was desperately in need of loosening up, and it lookwed as though she was the only woman capable of rattling his famous reserve.

***

I read The Vicar’s Daughter and Taming the Wolf back to back, and immediately took notice of the fact that both were vastly different in tone. To this day I can think of one author able to write both light and dark more  effectively: Connie Brockway, whose All Through the Night and My Dearest Enemy, were also published written back to back.

When I describe The Vicar’s Daughter—featuring the effervescent charms of Charlotte Trowbridge and the stuff-shirted Maximilian Alistair Wentworth Fortescue, the Fifth Earl of Wycliffe—and The Last Rogue, which stars Charlotte’s starchy sister Jane, and the Earl of Wycliff’s friend, the dandy Viscount Raleigh, the term I use is soufflé. Not that the books are in any danger of falling flat when left out too long. No, the books are light and airy, fun and frothy little morsels of delight. Another term, applied particularly to The Last Rogue? “Droll.”

 

The Last Rogue by Deborah Simmons

Raleigh Hadn’t Gambled on Finding a Virgin in His Bed—

but when he awoke next to Jane Trowbridge, he knew all bets for bachelorhood were off. Now, instead of a love match, he’d gotten a sparring partner.

Jane had never imagined herself anyone’s lawfully wedded wife, and now ironic fate had bound he to a hedonistic viscount who was a Tulip of the Ton. Still, could a man who only pursued pleasure find any pleasure pursuing her? And could she restrain her maidenly blushes long enough to let him?

The Devil Earl should be read by everyone who loves Amanda Quick’s Ravished. IMHO it’s actually a better story about a bluestocking heroine and a hero with a sinister reputation, and though my original grade for it was a straight B, it’s since moved up to a B+. The Gentleman Thief, a screwball comedy with a ditsy heroine and a hero with hidden, illegal talents—think Judy Holliday and Cary Grant—on the other hand, skirted all-time keeper territory until it faltered at the end.

None of these books are particularly unique in terms of premise, or even character type. It’s what Simmons does with basic plotlines and characters that puts her in an elite class of humorous romance writers. There’s never a heavy-handedness, an obvious attempt at humor. It’s the precise frothiness of her witty writing that sets her apart, and makes her so easy to dismiss because that lightness isn’t easy to pull off. She also knows her way around a love scene, so that even when she writes less sexily, the heat still zings.

Taming the Wolf by Deborah Simmons

Taming the Wolf also features a basic premise—the road romance—and character types that we’ve all read, namely the darkly brooding warrior and the heroine who vows escape. There’s amnesia to boot, and though there’s humor, the book has a dark and foreboding tonality, as well as an evil uncle who for too long has badgered his niece into submission. That is, until her uncle attacks her Wolf, and his Wren turns rather ferocious.

Simmons is one of a few authors I became friendly with throughout my tenure as publisher of AAR. To remain impartial, I stopped reading her books so that I could edit the reviews of others without bias.

When she lost her contract with Harlequin prior to finishing her De Burgh series, I felt outrage and loss. When she signed with Berkley a few years later, I silently rooted for her, but as more and more “eh” reviews came in, particularly when she re-signed with Harlequin and published the final De Burgh book, I wished she had had the career she deserved.

Though I’m dismayed The Vicar’s Daughter, The Gentleman Thief, and Taming the Wolf remain out-of-print, it’s fantastic that eight of the digital releases of her work on July 15th, including six Harlequin Historicals and two well-received short stories in anthologies, are from the author’s glory days between 1995 and 2001. I am hopeful that the remainder of her backlist finds its way into the digital arena. Even more importantly, I’d love to hear something great about a new release; deep down I believe Deborah Simmons has more fabulosity left to share with readers. 


Laurie Gold cannot stop reading and writing about romance—she’s been blabbing online for years. She remains a work in progress. Be one of the few who visits her at Toe in the Water or follow her may-be-too-political-for-you tweets at @laurie_gold.

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2 comments
Megan Frampton
1. MFrampton
Laurie: Until you mentioned it, I hadn't realized that Simmons had done equally good light-hearted and darker novels. I love both the Regencies and the medievals, and there are very few authors who can write equally well from both sides of the comedy/tragedy coin. Thanks!
Laurie Gold
2. LaurieGold
I think it's because I read them back to back that I noticed, which is also what happened with Connie Brockway. Although, since I have an amazing memory for books and authors (only...I can't remember names of people I met five minutes ago), I probably would have eventually noticed anyway. There are other authors, of course, who do this, but it's rare to find somebody so unnoticed; if she were a NYT bestseller it would make more sense.
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