It's to Heyer's credit she managed to take a formulaic premise for a novel and make something out of it, while springing a few surprises on the reader along the way.
Viscount Ashley Desford, known as a man-about-town but who has kind intentions and a good heart, encounters Charity (Cherry) Steane on the road to London. Cherry is running away from her cruel aunt and cousins, who have treated her as a drudge. She hopes her irascible grandfather will have pity on her and give her a home long enough for her to find some way to earn her own keep.
Ashley gives the young woman a ride to London, but when they find her grandfather has left town, all sorts of comic complications arise. Ashley must decide how to give Cherry some sort of respectable future while guarding her reputation, and his own, from gossip, as their unchaperoned journey has given rise to rumors he has less than honorable intentions toward her. Adding to his troubles is the fact that Cherry is the daughter of a disreputable man treated as a pariah by those in high society.
While Ashley searches for Cherry's grandfather, he leaves Cherry in the care of his dearest friend, Henrietta Silverdale. Henrietta's hypochondriac mother and a pair of jealous servants bring new dilemmas to Cherry and Ashley's lives. Everything comes to a head when Cherry's father, thought dead, re-enters her life with schemes to wring money or a marriage proposal out of Ashley. But all ends well, of course, with two characters discovering a long-delayed happily-ever-after.
Heyer has a gift for creating engaging, believable characters whose voices I can hear while I read and who make me chuckle with their all-too-human foibles. Her light, engaging prose carries me easily through her stories and into a bygone world of handsome gentlemen, fashionable ladies and genteel manners.
I just wish I had some sort of Regency glossary to consult while I read. Charity Girl was peppered with period slang I could only sometimes decipher from context. It was especially frustrating during conversations between young, single gentlemen speaking of their amorous adventures. I felt like a child listening in on an adult conversation I could only half understand!
My grade for Charity Girl: B+