When aristocrat Evan Haverfield meets uncommon commoner Deborah Moore, she is in a panicked rush to find her missing son Julian. Evan finds the little boy just in time, near death from exposure, and takes an active, concerned role in his recovery. His escalating involvement with Julian parallels his fascination, perhaps obsession, with Julian’s mother, a reserved, intelligent woman who reads books and speaks with clarity and decorum despite her lowly station in life.
Widow of a cold, fumbling small-town vicar, daughter of a brutal, profligate father, Deborah wants only Julian’s well-being. She is content to live alone, expecting only rejection and cruelty from men. She finds it difficult to smile for anyone except her son, yet Evan’s apparent interest in visiting, chatting, and offering small gifts is undeniably exciting.
Evan insists on paying for the child’s schooling so his obvious mental gifts won’t go to waste; but his fixation remains on the dark-haired Deborah, so different from the wild-eyed, loose-mouthed flirts in his social circle. After she yields, once, to his charms, he impulsively asks her to marry him. Their relationship changes, but not, as he’d hoped, for the better. Deborah is convinced she is no wife for quality. Evan, in a stew of anger, self-pity, and melancholy, hits the road.
Kerryn Reid has set her engaging story in a place and time when the rich are often excessive in their habits, with prolonged house-parties often leading to debauchery, while the poor struggle for survival and find solace in alehouses and alleyways. Everyone tries to keep their place, as Deborah and Evan strive to do, against the yearnings of the heart. It is this social tension that stokes Deborah’s refusal to become Evan’s wife—and in turn, provides the undercurrent that provokes in Evan a fear of how his parents will react to his alliance with a commoner.
Reid’s focus is on her richly developed characters, not just costumes and carriages, though those are not lacking. She has filled her well-conceived saga with a complex and compelling cast: the arrogant well-born beauty who tries in vain to win Evan’s attention, Evan’s grizzled, philosophical “Man Friday” and his goodhearted sisters, Deborah’s earnest, if bumbling, house-helper, and little Julian, the brainy boy who loves books and horses in equal measure.
Learning to Waltz reminds us that our forebearers also grappled with “modern” issues of abuse, angst, and aching hearts. This well-researched and beautiful Regency romance will appeal to anyone who has ever loved and (almost) lost. A stunning and refreshing novel in the Regency genre.