If the title of Eva Ibbotson's The Reluctant Heiress sounds as if it should be a cheap Regency paperback, well, it isn't. Not quite, anyway.
Originally published in 1982 (and titled The Magic Flute, in reference to Mozart's opera), this book tells a story familiar to fans of Ibbotson's delightful The Countess Belowstairs: an impoverished noblewoman with an eccentric extended family and friends meets handsome, dashing rich man who can save her fortunes. And while all of this sounds pretty cliche, Ibbotson has a way of making the stories cozy rather than simply predictable.
Here, the heroine is an impoverished princess (Princess Theresia-Maria of Pfaffenstein, to be exact--Tessa to her many friends) in 1920s Austria who's perfectly happy spending her days behind the scenes at a failing theatrical troupe. While her great-aunts want to see her safely married to a neighboring lord, that's not what Tessa herself wants. She just wants to assist in the creation of great art. She doesn't need money, though the loss of her beloved castle will undoubtedly hurt.
But when Tessa meets the dashing Guy Farnes, a self-made millionaire, her comfortable world begins to fall apart. Suddenly, she wants things she's not sure she can have--as Guy is already engaged to a lovely (if self-obsessed) young woman.
Guy himself is intrigued by Tessa, but doesn't think too much of her, until, in his quest to provide a perfect world for his fiance, he purchases Pfaffenstein and then hires the theatrical troupe Tessa belongs to to entertain his fiance at the castle. Drawn back into her old world (and into Guy's orbit), Tessa finds herself confronted with all the things she can't have.
While the ultimate resolution here was not at all surprising, there was something comforting in a well-told story wheeling along to its happily ever after. And I do find Ibbotson's characters delightful, if not entirely believable.