Lerner's debut regency, In For a Penny was a surprising, delightful read. Between the careful development of the relationship between Penelope and Nev and the burgeoning social issues of the time, Lerner crafted a well thought out, entertaining and enchanting novel.
The premise itself isn't anything new or revolutionary--penniless titled gentleman seeks out rich heiress to fill the family coffers and fix all the money problems he has. What surprised me most was that instead of having either one or the both of them fall instantly in love with the other, Lerner detailed the various stages that veritable strangers go through to learn about one and other. Several times throughout the novel either Penelope or Nev would think to themselves that there was still so much to learn about the other.
Certainly their personalities were a good fit--they were both at opposite ends of the spectrum in most ways. Where Nev was careless and debauched, Penelope was careful and calculating. Where Nev could only see one extreme or the other (restraint vs. free reign), Penelope could only think in moderation. The two of them, more than anything else, taught the other how to compromise their ideas. Penelope didn't always have to be the perfect lady and Nev didn't always have to be the perfect embodiment of virtues either.
Lerner also sets up the scene for the background plot of the social confusion and evolving idea of class and class treatment as well. Through Nev we see the ton, through Penelope we see 'new money' and through the tennants of Lowestowe we see the worker class. Since the French Revolution all 3 classes have undergone changes--some swift and some gradual--as the world moved towards a new era of society and class reform. Because of the position Nev finds himself in--trying to restore the profitability of Lowestowe--we can clearly see how disaterous mismanagement can lead to absolutely terrible conditions for all.
Admittedly some of the plot threads and inclusions weren't as neatly tied up. I'm still confused about Tom Kedge and what exactly was going on there, and Amy's reappearance was abrupt and given scant thought unless the plot needed that obstacle.. I would have also liked more development between Louisa and her beau.
On a whole I believe In For a Penny was a sparkling, delightful and engrossing debut.