By Carla Kelly, 1996, Regency Romance
Signet Regency, $4.99, ISBN #0-451-18684-2
Regency romance. Lords and Ladies. Elegance, glitter and the haute ton. Been there, read that. Not if it's a Carla Kelly Regency you haven't. The Lady's Companion flouts the conventions of a regency romance and tells a wonderful story in the process.
Susan Hampton is waking up in a bare, cold house. Her father, Sir Rodney Hampton is a charming and likable man. Unfortunately, he cannot keep away from the gaming tables and he is not lucky. He has lost almost all of their possessions. Eventually, he loses their house. They are forced to live with his sister, Louisa who takes them in and gives them a home but it is clear to Susan that she will very soon become her aunt's unpaid maid. When Sir Rodney gambles away Susan's last possession, her mother's pearl necklace, Susan has had all that she can take and finds herself a position as a companion to Lady Bushnell.
At Lady Bushnell's manor, Susan meets the bailiff, David Wiggins. David is Welsh and served as a sergeant in the army with Lady Bushnell's husband. He is illegitimate, and grew up in a workhouse. He has been flogged for thieving and has been a poacher. Despite his past, it is soon very apparent that he is trustworthy, honorable and dependable - everything that Sir Rodney Hampton, the gentleman, is not.
Susan and Lady Bushnell become friends. The growth of their relationship is beautifully depicted. At first, Lady Bushnell seems a bad-tempered dragon lady, but we gradually come to know her as a brave and independent woman who purely hates getting old and depending on others. This is a woman who followed her husband from battle to battle all over Europe. She is as brave as any soldier, and Susan grows to admire, respect, and finally love her.
David Wiggins is worth more than most fashionable gentlemen. He is a capable bailiff for Lady Bushnell and has a dream of one day owning his own seed farm. To achieve his goal, he is working on developing an improved strain of wheat by crossing some grain he found on a battlefield with English wheat. He and Susan become good friends before she begins to fall in love with him. Susan soon discovers that David is a very interesting man. She loves to walk and talk with him and help him with his work. Susan has never been a snob, but she does hold some minor class prejudices. In the face of David's trustworthiness and dependability, her prejudices disappear and she falls in love with him.
Carla Kelly can pack more character and good writing into a short regency than many writers can in a 100,000 word mega-novel. Her secondary characters are beautifully depicted. Mrs. Swindel, Lady Bushnell's housekeeper and Joel Steinman, the owner of the agency that places Susan, all of them are memorable. Give Carla Kelly a try if you are tired of traditional regency novels. She is a unique writer with a very distinctive style that is hard to describe. Once you read her novels you will not forget them.
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