May 1812 is essentially a romance set during one of the most unsettling months in the early nineteenth century. The Earl of Myddelton discovers that he has to fulfil his part in a marriage arranged by his late father or he will lose his fortune. The girl he is meant to marry is Jane Heron, a young woman of better education and breeding than he had anticipated. They marry as required but their efforts to get to know each other properly are hindered, not least by the assassination of the prime minister, Sir Spencer Perceval. As Myddelton finds himself even more immersed in work, rumours and scandal threaten to destroy his fledging marriage before it's begun.
This is an excellent novel, deftly weaving fact and fiction together. Against the backdrop of the Napoleonic war and Perceval's assassination, Bennetts creates a compelling romance that frequently had me groaning at yet another mix-up. Myddelton works at the Foreign Office and so is in the thick of the action; this doesn't bode well for his marriage. Jane herself is a pragmatic girl but coping with her new situation proves difficult at times, especially when a love rival decides to cause problems.
There are some stand-out moments in this book. Early in the novel when the Myddeltons visit Vauxhall Gardens the scene is evoked wonderfully. Equally, the scene of Perceval's murder is gently depicted, along with Myddelton's reactions to it later through the eyes of his wife. I also enjoyed the descriptions later of Myddelton's little adventure. Some of the supporting characters were difficult to keep track of but this may have been a memory problem on my part. In addition, I struggled with the omniscient narrator, but I feel that's also a personal preference. It certainly suited this type of novel and allowed the reader to be steps ahead of the characters. Towards the end that became vital!
The level of detail in this book is astounding but it doesn't make itself known. The 'info dumps' are only really there when necessary; the rest of the historical context comes across naturally within the narrative. From a bizarre premise of an arranged marriage from beyond the grave, May 1812 becomes a romance novel you truly want to have a happy ending. The pace irritated me at times but only ever because I was on the side of the characters - that's a fine way to be irritated I think. Excellent book, recommended for any fans of historical fiction in general and Regency fiction particularly. The mentions of the Prince Regent and Beau Brummell are amusing for a start!