Georgette Heyer's Bath Tangle is a story of mismatched lovers, very much along the lines of a comedy of manners with the most ill-suited characters getting together and then making a mess of things until the tangle gets sorted out at the end.
Upon his death the Earl of Spenborough leaves behind a daughter and second wife, both contemporaries of each other--Serena even being a tad older than her stepmother, Lady Fanny. Serena is still on the shelf at the ripe old age of twenty-seven, but being high-spirited and independent she doesn't seem to mind particularly. A fiery red-haired goddess she is equally at home in the saddle as directing the servants of her father's vast estate. She has no qualms about giving her opinion no matter the delicacy of the subject, comfortable no doubt in her rank and status in ton society.
Fanny is quite her opposite. Shy and introspective, she was not born into high society. She can put order to the household's daily workings to make things run smoothly but is generally more reserved and cautious in her actions and acts befitting the role of a gentleman's wife as expected of a lady of her class. She doesn't share Serena's love the great outdoors and is more demure in the salon caring for propriety and popular opinion.
When Serena discovers that her father has left her fortune in the trusteeship of a man she was once betrothed to, but from whom in the end she 'cried off', she erupts in a passionate storm of anger and contempt. Ivo, the Marquis of Rotherham is the equal to Serena in not only rank but sensibilities and it's likely Serena's father is still trying to matchmake from the grave. Although similar in natures with their love of horses and strong personalities Serena felt they 'did not suit' and so called off the wedding, though in the years following the two have maintained a friendship, albeit a tempestuous one.
Life in the Dower house, to which Fanny and Serena have removed as the estate now falls into the hands of the next male heir, is not only boring but contemptible to the ladies. They decide instead to spend the summer season in Bath where they can at least take part in quiet society while they remain in mourning. Into their lives walks Major Hector Kirkby, one of Serena's old flames. They met when they were too young. Hector was only embarking on a military career and had neither wealth nor rank to ask for Serena's hand, but so many years later they find the spark is still there.
Always attracted by Serena's great beauty the Major tends to smooth over her impetuous behavior even while mentally chastising her. In reality his thinking of what is proper is far more in line with Lady Fanny's demeanor. And then word comes of a betrothal between Ivo Rotherham and a very young woman who is often of Serena and Fanny's social circle. Emily Laleham is starry eyed over Ivo's rank and fortune, but her youth and naivete means she was likely cowed into accepting his proposal by her gold-digging mama. Ivo's bearish and often arrogant ways often scare Emily, but she hasn't the courage to stand up to Ivo or her mother. With so many couplings there should be happy tidings but as Emily runs off with a more youthful suitor what follows is a romp through the countryside that will unravel the pairings and set the couples to right.
I loved the idea of this story, it has a great premise and Heyer is as usual witty in her prose, but for me the story (and particularly the characters) lacked the charm that is so notable in her other novels. What began with so much promise sort of fizzled the more I read. The characterization just went a step too far--crossing the line from amusing to annoying (with the exception of the vulgar Mrs. Floore who was very entertaining). I found myself becoming increasingly frustrated by both Ivo's and Serena's behavior unfortunately. I did, however, enjoy reading about Bath society and some of the gossipy scenes that give a look into what might well have went on in Regency sitting rooms were wonderful.
I suspect I am in the minority with Bath Tangle. It's one of the rare stories that I didn't find as enjoyable as I had anticipated, but with over fifty books to her name hopefully the next will be more to my taste. My copy was compliments of Sourcebooks.
For more thoughts (generally positive) on Bath Tangle: