Knave’s Wager by Loretta Chase (audiobook) – narrated by Stevie Zimmerman


Lilith Davenant, has ample reason to detest Julian Wyndhurst, Marquess of Brandon: he’s exactly the kind of man who hastened the demise of her profligate husband, and the debt he owed to Julian has forced her to an engagement with a wealthy suitor for the sake of supporting her beloved nieces and nephews. Besides that, Lord Julian somehow manages to ignite disturbing…feelings…she’s never felt before!

Lord Julian used his considerable skills and cunning in the war against Napoleon. Now he’s obliged to use the same talents to save his young cousin from a disastrous marriage to a scheming mistress — who makes him a wager: If Julian can seduce the famously icy Lady Lilith Davenant, the lady will release his cousin from the engagement.

But very quickly, Julian discovers Lilith’s hidden warmth, kindness and humor. Will he be able to prove his heart to her before she learns of his recklessly shameless wager?

Rating: Narration B; Content: B+

Knaves’ Wager is one of Loretta Chase’s earlier titles, having originally been published in 1990. The author’s trademark wit and humour are much in evidence, the principal and secondary characters are strongly drawn, and the story features a sweet secondary romance as well as the very well-developed central one. The book also boasts one of her wittiest, sexiest heroes and lots of wonderful, battle-of-the-sexes banter.

Julian Wyndhurst, Marquess of Brandon has recently returned to London from the war-torn continent, having been summoned home to deal with a family emergency – which it turns out is his cousin Robert’s intention to marry his mistress of two years’ standing. Julian is not pleased at having been called back for such a paltry reason, but Robert has not only expressed his desire to marry his chère amie, he has committed his intentions to paper, which puts a completely different complexion on things.

Reluctantly, Julian confronts the young woman fully intending to buy her off, but she is made of sterner stuff and instead proposes a wager. If Julian can seduce the thoroughly proper and upstanding Mrs Davenant within the next eight weeks, she will bow out gracefully, return Robert’s letters and agree never to see him again.

Having already formed the intention of laying siege to the widow’s virtue, and fully cognisant of the effect upon women of his exceptional good looks and confident in his ability to charm the birds from the trees, Julian accepts.

Lilith Davenant is cool, composed and has the reputation of being an ice-queen. She is reserved, but is kind, thoughtful and generous to those who know her best, as well as possessing has a dry sense of humour that she rarely has the opportunity to exercise. Her late husband did not treat her well, and left her in straightened circumstances. Having no children of her own, Lilith has made it her mission to bring out her numerous nieces, but now her finances are dwindling to such an extent that she is forced to consider the idea of marrying again.

Julian, however, will have greater obstacles to overcome than his bad-boy reputation and Lilith’s sense of propriety, for she blames him for her husband’s demise. Even though Davenant was ill, Lilith believes his end was hastened by his association with Julian’s set, and the final indignity was that her husband died owing Julian a very large sum of money, which has caused the depletion of her finances.

Of course, Lilith can’t help but find herself reluctantly drawn to the gorgeous marquess, and of course, he can’t help falling for her and then being too stupid to recognise his feelings for what they really are. But even such a clichéd plotline can’t detract from the sheer joy to be found in this story. The chemistry between the leads is potent, and the author builds the sexual tension between them by slow degrees so that nothing feels rushed or forced. Julian and Lilith eventually manage to put their preconceptions aside and develop a genuine friendship in which they discover that they enjoy each other’s company and like each other as people as much as they are also attracted to each other.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Suffragette Scandal by Courtney Milan


An idealistic suffragette…

Miss Frederica “Free” Marshall has put her heart and soul into her newspaper, known for its outspoken support of women’s rights. Naturally, her enemies are intent on destroying her business and silencing her for good. Free refuses to be at the end of her rope…but she needs more rope, and she needs it now.

…a jaded scoundrel…

Edward Clark’s aristocratic family abandoned him to die in a war-torn land, so he survived the only way he could: by becoming a rogue and a first-class forger. When the same family that left him for dead vows to ruin Miss Marshall, he offers his help. So what if he has to lie to her? She’s only a pawn to use in his revenge.

…and a scandal seven years in the making.

But the irrepressible Miss Marshall soon enchants Edward. By the time he realizes that his cynical heart is hers, it’s too late. The only way to thwart her enemies is to reveal his scandalous past…and once the woman he loves realizes how much he’s lied to her, he’ll lose her forever.

Rating: A

If Courtney Milan’s last book – The Countess Conspiracy – was a love letter to the forgotten women of science, those women who were ridiculed and derided because they dared to encroach upon the male preserve of scientific investigation and discovery, then The Suffragette Scandal is by way of being her panegyric to those women who were ridiculed – and far worse – for their advocacy of the cause of women’s rights.

It’s an extraordinary story, and after I had, with a feeling of immense satisfaction, finished it, my next thought was – “How the hell am I going to do justice to it in a review?!”

The answer to that, of course, is that I can’t. All I can do is encourage you to read it, too, because I can’t imagine that anyone picking it up could fail to be drawn in by the story, which is, as one would expect from Ms Milan, splendidly written, full of warmth and humour, possessed of a wonderful grasp of the social issues of the time, and boasts two complex and very well-rounded central characters.

Each book in her Brothers Sinister series has managed to combine a well-developed love story with some serious social commentary, the latter presented in such a way as to never feel preachy or overly didactic. Her heroines have all been extraordinary women, from Serena, the violated governess who refuses to be invisible, or Violet, the brilliant scientist whose history of repeated tragedy causes her to collapse in upon herself to the point she can’t see herself any more; to Free, passionate activist and campaigner for womens’ rights, who continually places herself in danger because while the world is a terrible place – she refuses to be cowed and is determined to make it better.

Each of these incredible women has met her match in a man who is much more than her perfect mate. Hugo, Robert, Oliver, Sebastian – and now Edward – are all men who do so much more than understand and support their women. They love them for who they are – difficult, challenging women though they may be – and wouldn’t have them any other way. Each of the men is a bit of subversive in his own right – as with Robert, the duke who wants to improve the conditions of the working man, and Sebastian, the joker in the pack who started down his particular path in order to help the woman he adored and along the way, found his true calling and his sense of self-worth along with it.

Edward Clark isn’t a hero. Or, thinks he isn’t. He’s a liar, a forger and a blackmailer, admitting to each of these things quite openly when he first confronts Frederica Marshall with an offer of assistance. Someone in a position of power is out to close down her radical newspaper, The Women’s Free Press, but more than that, is determined to exact a more hurtful and personal revenge against her. For his own reasons, Edward wants to thwart that plan, and has devised the perfect way to do it.

Given all the things Edward tells Free, she is suspicious of his motivations for wanting to help her, but reasoning that the enemy of her enemy is… if not precisely her friend, then at least someone she is willing to listen to, she hears him out. Her enemy is going to have one of her writers arrested for theft on a trumped-up charge and then use that to discredit her. Free goes along with Edward’s scheme to prevent this, and very cleverly pulls the metaphorical rug from under his feet when the job is done. Edward can’t believe she has outwitted him, but rather than going into a male fit of the sulks, he takes it on the chin and admires her for it.

But he is still keeping his motives hidden. He doesn’t tell her that the reporter is a dear friend of his, or that the person seeking to ruin her is actually his younger brother James Delacey, the would-be-Viscount Claridge.

For Edward is the rightful holder of that particular title, but, having been missing for almost seven years is about to be declared legally dead. He doesn’t want the title or all its trappings anyway and is quite content for Edward Delacey to remain dead so his brother can inherit.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance

In for a Penny by Rose Lerner

in for a penny

“Grand Passion or epic disaster?”

Lord Nevinstoke revels in acting the young wastrel, until his father is killed in a drunken duel. Never one to do anything halfway, Nev throws off his wild ways to shoulder a mountain of responsibility and debt vowing to marry a rich girl and act the respectable lord of the manor.

Manufacturing heiress Penelope Brown seems the perfect choice for a wife. She s pretty, proper, and looking for a husband.

Determined to rise above her common birth, Penelope prides herself on her impeccable behavior and good sense. Grand Passion? Vulgar and melodramatic. Yes, agreeing to marry Nev was a rare moment of impulse, yet she’s sure they can build a good marriage based on companionship and mutual esteem.

But when they arrive at the manor, they’re overwhelmed with half-starved tenants, a menacing neighbor, and the family propensity for scandal. As the situation deteriorates, the newlyweds have nowhere to turn but to each other. To Penelope’s surprise, she begins to fervently hope that her first taste of Grand Passion in her husband’s arms won’t be her last.

Rating: A-

Rose Lerner’s début novel In for a Penny was originally published in 2011, but has been out of print for a while due to the demise of Dorchester Publishing. The author’s most recent book, Sweet Disorder (which I also rated highly) was recently published by Samhain, who has now reissued Ms Lerner’s earlier novels, In for a Penny and A Lily Among Thorns. Ms Lerner is a very talented writer who, while setting her stories in the Regency period, has managed, in each of her books so far, to give readers a view of something other than the glittering ballrooms of the ton, combining an eye for historical detail and social observation with a well-developed romance.

Lord Nevinstoke – Nev to his friends – is a character rather in the mould of one of Georgette Heyer’s “wastrel” heroes like Sherry in Friday’s Child; he’s not really a rake, just a young man enjoying all the pleasures of a life “on the town”. Nev’s bachelor existence comes to an abrupt end when his father is killed and is discovered to have left a mountain of debts, leaving Nev in desperate need of funds. So he does what any young nobleman in a similar situation would do, and finds himself an heiress to marry.

Penelope Brown is the daughter of an extremely rich brewer, and although she and Nev have spent only a few minutes in each other’s company, she can’t help being a little bit smitten by such a charming young man. Nev is completely honest about the reasons for his sudden proposal, and Penelope appreciates his honesty, thinking that perhaps she can help him (she has a head for finance and he doesn’t) – so she accepts and they are married without delay. Immediately, I liked both characters for the way they entered into the marriage with their eyes open and the feeling that while they weren’t madly in love, they liked each other and could probably make a go of it.

The newly-weds travel to Nev’s estates, and set about trying to put things to rights. But all is not well, and they encounter distrust and animosity at almost every turn. Ms Lerner turns the focus of her story away from the whirl of the social season, and sets it in a less-than-idyllic countryside in which the farmers and tenants are finding it hard to make ends meet and have suffered years of neglect by the landowner – Nev’s father – who was supposed to be responsible for their welfare.

At the same time as he is learning to run the estate, Nev and Penelope are navigating their way through their new relationship, and finding that’s not all plain sailing either. The couple gets along very well, although Pen’s business acumen sometimes makes Nev feel inadequate, and Pen’s lowly background makes her feel as though she’s not good enough for him. But those sorts of class distinctions don’t matter to Nev. He may be Penelope’s social superior, but he never treats her as anything less than an equal.

But with feelings of inadequacy and insecurity lurking beneath the surface, there is scope for misunderstanding and miscommunication, which stems from both characters’ reluctance to open themselves up to the possibility of their love being one-sided.

While In for a Penny is a superb book, the second half of it becomes a little over-populated with plot-points. We already have a fledgling marriage navigating its way through rocky patches and the unrest bubbling along through the yeomanry who are feeling the pinch because of mechanisation and enclosure. To this are added the oily local magistrate who has his lecherous eyes on Nev’s sister and the even oilier vicar who is taking back-handers, a poaching gang, and, on top of it all, a subplot involving Nev’s ex- mistress, which, personally, I could have happily have dispensed with. Nev and Penny had enough to contend with without all those extraneous issues.

Still, the writing and the characterisation are both excellent, with Nev being the real stand-out character. He is only twenty-three, and at the beginning, is living the high life with nobody to worry about other than himself. His father’s unexpected death hits him hard, but there is never any question in his mind that he must do his duty and take his responsibilities very seriously. There’s a nice sub-plot concerning Nev and his two bosom buddies, and how he comes to see that he’s outgrown them. He’s a terrific hero – honest and hard-working – and his treatment of Penny is simply wonderful, time and again showing how much he cares through small gestures and consideration.

Penny is Nev’s opposite. She’s a commoner and her family has made its money in trade; she has been well educated and brought up as a lady, but there’s no escaping the fact that society looks down on her because of her origins. She’s intelligent, practical and has a sound business mind that is the perfect complement to Nev’s “people skills”.

In for a Penny is a terrific portrait of a marriage of convenience turning slowly into love amid real-life problems like being short of money and having to cope with new and difficult situations. The romance is beautifully developed and has real depth to it, and Ms Lerner’s grasp of the history of the period is sound and used to very good effect. In spite of my comments about the density of the plot in the latter part of the story, I’m nonetheless recommending this delightful book very highly indeed.

The Rake’s Redemption by Sherril Bodine

rakeredempNote to artwork department: The heroine is auburn haired and the hero is blond. Who are the people on the cover meant to be?

Love can come crashing into your life when you least expect it.

After the sudden death of his parents, Dominic, the Marquis of Aubrey, has inherited a prestigious title, abundant wealth, and a life of luxury. On his way to London to mark the start of another social season with drinking and carousing, his travels are interrupted by a collision with a young widow’s carriage.

Juliana Grenville, still mourning the death of her husband, prepares to help her overworked brother find a wife when the infamous Marquis crashes into her life. Intrigued by his secretive manner and dark past, she finds herself drawn into his world, even as both try to resist the growing passion between them.

Rating: C

This recently re-issued traditional Regency does suffer somewhat in comparison to many of today’s historical romances, principally in the area of the depth – or lack thereof – to the characterisation of the principals. The best of today’s historical romances present us with strongly characterised, fully fleshed-out heroes and heroines – and while it’s untrue to say that these don’t exist in older books (this was originally published in 1989), I have the impression from those I’ve read that it’s less common.

That said, there is an attempt in this story to introduce some depth to both protagonists, with the author being much more successful in the case of the heroine. The hero never really rises above the two-dimensional, despite the rather traumatic experiences of his past.

The story is a simple one. Lady Juliana Grenville is a young widow, having lost her husband of eighteen weeks – who was also her childhood sweetheart – during the war in Spain. In deference to his father’s wishes, and her promise to remain faithful to Will’s memory, Juliana has sequestered herself away at her country estate and is mostly content. But her aunt and companion, Sophia, is not at all happy with this, and finally manages to cajole Juliana into travelling to London to enjoy a Season and live a little.

On the way, they are involved in a carriage accident and are assisted by Dominic Crawford, the Marquis of Aubrey, a young man with a reputation so black that ladies quail at the very mention of his name. Well, the respectable ones do. All the others throw themselves at his blond, blue-eyed gorgeousness.

Dominic and his cousin Freddie strike up friendships with both ladies, with Dominic and Juliana becoming particularly close during the few days they spend together at a country inn. Despite their enforced association, I found it really odd that Juliana, Sophia, Dominic and Freddie were on first name terms within a few hours of their meeting.

All good things must come to an end however, and the gentlemen and ladies continue their journeys to London, where Juliana finds Dominic very changed. The companionship and warmth he had shown her previously is gone, to be replaced by a coldness that Juliana is at a loss to explain.

Dominic is, of course, trying to do the honourable thing and “save her from herself” by keeping away from her, or at least, withdrawing from her emotionally. His feelings for her are further complicated by the fact that he knew her late husband, and was actually with him when he died. Hearing Will speak so movingly about the young woman he had waiting for him at home led her to become a kind of talisman for Dominic – and he cannot bear the thought of her goodness being sullied by his tarnished name and dissolute deeds.

When we find out the truth of Dominic’s past, and the reasons behind the life of debauchery into which he launched himself following his parents’ deaths, it’s certainly something which could easily have induced someone to become a little unbalanced. But here, as with so many books featuring “rakish”, “wicked” or otherwise imperfect heroes, is where the storytelling falls down, because we’re never really provided with any reason to believe ill of Dominic other than what other people tell us during the course of the book. Whenever he’s on the page, his behaviour what one would expect of a gentleman of the period (excepting his blow-hot / blow-cold attitude towards Juliana), and I really saw nothing in him to suggest he was a rake of the first order.

The best parts of the book were undoubtedly those moments where Juliana decided to take charge of her life and go after what she wants. At first, she shies away from Dominic because of the way he makes her feel, and because of the visceral reaction he evokes in her. She sees it as a betrayal of the promise she made to her dying father-in-law to not replace Will, and feels extremely guilty. But there comes a point when she finally sees that she is entitled to have a life of her own and another chance at love, and, in a lovely scene, she finally puts her past behind her and determines to move forward. Then towards the end, when Dominic is insisting that he is not worthy of her, Juliana makes it very clear that she won’t allow him to ruin both their lives because of some misplaced sense of honour.

The Rake’s Redemption is a quick, undemanding read, which boasts an attractive central couple. The writing is decent, if a little overly simplistic at times, but if you’re in the mood for a simple, clean “trad”, this might suit.

Tempting Fortune (Malloren #2) by Jo Beverley (audiobook) – narrated by Alison Larkin


Portia St. Claire’s brother has gambled and lost, throwing her into the power of ruthless men. Their price for his life is her virtue, to be auctioned off in London’s most notorious brothel.

To retrieve an incriminating letter, Bryght Malloren once broke into a house where he was greeted at pistol point by a resolute woman–a woman he could swear stands before him, masked and trembling, on a madam’s auction block.

Unable to leave Portia to such a cruel fate, Bryght turns the private wager into a very public game of seduction, one that confirms his reputation as a shameless rake and keeps all of London society breathless with anticipation. But on a night shimmering with destiny, truth, and passion, those who tempt fortune risk losing everything, including their hearts.

Rating: Narration B; Content: B-

Tempting Fortune is the second book in Ms Beverley’s series about the Malloren siblings, all of whom have outlandish names! Our hero here is Lord Arcenbryght Malloren – known as Bryght – who spends much of his time running the family’s many business interests, while also maintaining interests of his own. He has tied up most of his personal wealth in an ambitious canal-building scheme which he believes will bring in hefty profits (as a matter of historical record, it did!) although right now it’s eating up cash like there’s no tomorrow, so he supplements his income by gambling. Fortunately for him, he is skilful and blessed with good luck – and he plans to marry a very rich widow as a back-up plan.

One of the plot threads left over from My Lady Notorious is picked up at the beginning of this book, with Bryght travelling to Kent in order to retrieve a letter written by his former mistress. The letter is located in the Earl of Walgrave’s country house, but the Wares and the Mallorens being enemies, Bryght can’t just turn up, ring the doorbell and ask for it, so he has to break in. He is confronted at pistol-point by the diminutive Portia St. Clair who promptly threatens to shoot him. She’s no match for him, however, and he overwhelms her, finds the letter and departs, but not without – in the best traditions of the hero-turned-housebreaker – a kiss.

Walgrave is an old friend of the St. Clair family, and Portia and her half-brother, Sir Oliver, have approached him for financial assistance. Oliver has a taste for the gambling tables and has managed to lose everything but his shirt, and they hope that Walgrave will fund a mortgage on their estate.

The siblings travel to London to make their request, and while there, they again encounter Bryght Malloren, whose attentions to Portia are marked. But she wants nothing to do with a man who is known to be a high-stakes gambler. Her father ran their estate into the ground because of his addiction to the tables, and now Oliver has incurred further disaster in the same way, so her disdain of Bryght is understandable. Yet she can’t help but be attracted to his handsome face and charming manner. When they hear that the old earl has died and that his son, Fortitude Ware (Fort) is the new earl, they have reason to feel optimistic, as Fort is sure to help them. With that weight off her mind, Portia has more leisure to worry about Oliver, who is still intent on re-building their fortune at the tables. But Oliver doesn’t have the means, the skill or the luck to play and win, and very quickly loses more money than he can pay. Portia is confronted with a terrible choice: allow Oliver to be beaten up by his creditors and then be thrown into debtor’s prison, or obtain the necessary money by auctioning off her virtue. For her, it’s a no-brainer.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Boleyn Reckoning (Boleyn Trilogy #3) by Laura Andersen


Elizabeth Tudor is at a crossroads. After a disastrous winter, the Duke of Northumberland has been executed for treason while his son, Robert Dudley, claims from the Tower that the true traitor has not yet been caught. And though her brother, William, has survived smallpox, scars linger in the king’s body and mind and his patience is at an end.

As English ships and soldiers arm themselves against the threat of invasion, William marches to the drumbeat of his own desires rather than his country’s welfare. Wary of this changed royal brother, Elizabeth assembles her own shadow court to protect England as best she can. But William, able to command armies and navies, cannot command hearts.

Minuette and Dominic have married in secret, and after an ill-timed pregnancy, they take to flight. Faced with betrayal by the two he loved most, William’s need for vengeance pushes England to the brink of civil war and in the end, Elizabeth must choose: her brother, or her country?

I’ve written separate reviews of both The Boleyn King and The Boleyn Deceit – but as this is the first of the three books I reviewed for All About Romance, I begin the review with a brief overview of the earlier books.

Rating: B+

As a long-time reader of historical fiction, I didn’t think a book which explored an “alternative” historical time-line would be my cup of tea. So I approached the first book in Laura Andersen’s Boleyn Trilogy a little apprehensively, but determined to keep an open mind. I was very quickly sucked into the story, became invested in the characters – both fictional and non-fictional – and was impressed by the author’s excellent grasp of the history of the period.

It’s one thing to write a “history” in which your characters are completely your own invention, but it’s quite another to write one in which the fictional blends seamlessly with the factual, while also retaining a sense of authenticity and without rewriting history completely. But Ms Andersen manages to do – and not do – all those things at the same time as she has penned a compelling story full of political intrigue and romance.

(On a side note – the publishers proudly trumpet that these books will appeal to fans of Alison Weir and Philippa Gregory. Please don’t let yourself be put off reading these books because of those comparisons – I dislike the work of both of those authors, while I enjoy Ms. Andersen’s very much!)

The trilogy takes as its premise a most intriguing “what if?” – suppose Anne Boleyn had given Henry VIII a son who had lived to succeed his father? The fall-out from that idea is very interesting: There would have been no Edward VI, no Bloody Mary, perhaps even no Virgin Queen, and extrapolating further, possibly no Stuarts, no Civil War… the possibilities are endless. But from the outset, the author stated her intent for the trilogy to see Elizabeth ascend the throne in 1558, which is probably just as well, because thinking about all those possible ramifications is enough to make one’s head ache!

A number of plot threads run throughout the series, so it’s advisable to read the books in order. The first, The Boleyn King, sets up the dynamics between the four central characters. William Tudor is in the last year of his minority and is determined to make his mark and be a good ruler. He knows a king needs people around him he can trust, and there is no one he trusts more than his sister Elizabeth, his closest friend, Dominic Courtenay (who is, like William, a great-grandson of Edward IV), and Geneveive (Minuette) Wyatt, daughter of one of his mother’s closest confidants. Lively, witty, and clever, Minuette is the peace-maker among the four, while Dominic is the steady hand, quiet, considered and fiercely loyal, his reticence and the soundness of his advice often acting as a curb to Will’s more impulsive nature. The four are united through ties of close friendship, but it’s clear, towards the end of the book, that is going to be sorely tested. Dominic and Minuette have fallen in love but they are prevented from taking things any further when Will also shows a more romantic interest in Minuette. Knowing Will will need all the friends he can get as he fully assumes the reins of power, the lovers decide to wait to declare themselves, believing Will’s feelings to be nothing but a passing infatuation.

In The Boleyn Deceit the secret romance comes more to the fore in the story, as it becomes clear that William’s infatuation is not flagging, but is becoming more intense. Various intrigues and plotlines are picked up from the previous book; the threat of civil war looms over the religious divide so his advisers want Will to marry a French princess to appease the Catholics and prevent a French invasion, and Elizabeth meets two men who will play a large part in her eventual government – the astrologer and scholar John Dee, and the wily Francis Walsingham. She also falls more than a little in love with Robert Dudley, even though, unlike her brother, she will allow her heart to rule her head in the matter. Will wants none of the French marriage because he wants only Minuette, and he starts to show signs of the stubbornness and cruelty which came to characterise his father. Towards the end of the book, Will betrays Dominic’s trust in an unforgivable manner which is the catalyst for much of the storyline of book three. Furious and hurt by his friend’s deceit and unable to bear the frustration of his love for Minuette any longer, Dominic and Minuette are married in secret, fully intending to confess to Will upon their return to court. But after a few idyllic weeks spent at Minuette’s home in the country, they learn that smallpox has struck the court and that Will is seriously ill.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

TBR Challenge: Prospero’s Daughter by Nancy Butler

Prosperos daughter

Morgan Pierce is man entranced-by a mysterious woman in a Bath Chair. Bound to her fate by a crippling carriage accident, Miranda wants only solitude during her recovery. Morgan, however, believes it is her heart that needs healing…

Rating: A

This month’s prompt for the Multi-Blog TBR Challenge is to read a past RITA winner or nominee. A quick trawl through their website showed that I have a few past winners in my collection, and I opted for this one, as it also fulfils my little side-challenge of making a dent in the pile of second-hand paperbacks sitting by the bed!

Prospero’s Daughter was the winner in the historical category in 2004. It’s a beautifully written and tender love story with an underlying message about the need for acceptance and unconditional love which is both powerful and sensitively delivered.

Morgan Pearce has recently sold his commission and returned to England to work with his ailing uncle in his publishing business. He is inveigled by his friend, Ronald Palfry, to travel to the Lake District to assist his father, General Sir Janus Palrfy with the writing of his memoirs. Reluctant to leave London, the delights of the season and the arms of his lover, Morgan is determined not to make a stay of longer than a couple of weeks.

On arrival at Windermere, he finds himself in the midst of the perfect family. Sir Janus and his wife are affable, and their two daughters are pretty and lively, and determined to make a fuss of their handsome and charming guest. But he holds to his plan of a short visit, until Sir Janus insists he stay until his manuscript is complete. Morgan is not at all pleased, but when the general challenges him to revoke the favour he has done for Ronald, Morgan is trapped into staying.

Shortly after this, Morgan is surprised to encounter a young woman sitting, abandoned, in a bath chair in the gardens. Nobody has mentioned that there is a relative or another guest in residence, and he is both intrigued and disgusted when he learns that the woman is related to the family. Intrigued because while she is clearly ill or injured, he senses that she is possessed of considerable spirit, and disgusted with the Palfrys for hiding her away and acting as if she does not exist.

Miranda Runyon is the general’s cousin, and was injured in the accident that, three years previously, killed both her parents. She is attended only by a couple of servants, one of whom treats her as if she is an imbecile, and spends most of her time cooped up in her room in bed. She is garbed from head to foot in heavy wool, but that can’t hide how thin and frail she is. Morgan can’t leave her – not just because she is alone and can’t get about by herself, but because he believes he can help her. Having seen plenty of badly wounded soldiers, Morgan has some ideas as to how he can aid Miranda’s recovery, and, in the course of seeking help for his best friend (who lost a leg in the war), Morgan has also learned of a doctor in Edinburgh who has new theories as to the treatment of amputees and serious injuries to the limbs.

Miranda, however, wants nothing to do with him – she’s given up and only wants to be left alone. She’s emaciated, her muscles are atrophied from disuse, and she has some scarring and a slight deformity to one side of her face as the result of an injury to her cheekbone. But where she thinks herself the ugly, monstrous pariah her family clearly believes her to be, Morgan sees someone who, with help, will be able to make something of her life.

His initial treatment of her is of the “cruel to be kind” variety. Because she is unable to move from her chair, or move the chair around, she cannot escape him, and he uses this to force her into his company. She tries to ignore him, but his taunts and jibes about the inferiority and feeble-mindedness of the female sex eventually cause her to respond in anger. Their relationship, such as it is, continues in this vein for a short while as, with the help of one of her carers, Morgan arranges to meet Miranda for an hour each morning, attempting to draw her out and to get her to start to care enough about her life to want to fight for it.

Miranda continues to try to push Morgan away. She wants none of his meddling, until at last, his constant needling and his patience begin to have a more positive effect and Miranda starts to see that perhaps she does have something worth fighting for after all.

It’s not an easy journey, as both of them have things to learn about themselves and each other, but as time passes, Miranda steadily improves, putting on weight and regaining the use of her hands and arms. Within weeks, she is barely recognisable as the pitifully thin young woman Morgan first encountered.

Their romance develops naturally, as their initial “doctor/patient” interaction soon becomes a true friendship of like-minded people which is poised to progress to more. Morgan is attracted to Miranda’s intellect and her spirit, and she falls for the kind and sensitive man who has poked and prodded her into recovery. The passion between them leaps off the page; even though the pair don’t go beyond kisses on paper, their chemistry is intense and beautifully written, making it one of my favourite types of romance, one in which the principals are not initially attracted to each other, but become friends until something changes and they begin to see each other in a different light.

There is a secondary storyline concerning Morgan’s best friend Philip DeBurgh who, until his injury, had been engaged to Morgan’s sister, Kitty. Philip has resisted all Morgan’s and Kitty’s efforts to help him to recover and adapt, and I suppose one could argue that Morgan sees Miranda – initially at least – as a kind of substitute. But that’s not to denigrate his reasons for helping her – he sees someone in need of help, and his instinct is to give it.

The writing and characterisation are both excellent, and Ms Butler’s exploration of the emotional fallout of Miranda’s condition is sensitively handled. Morgan is a wonderful hero, an honourable man who is prepared to put himself out in order to help another person and who, when push comes to shove, is not afraid to admit his deeper feelings for the woman he loves. And Miranda regains her confidence and her life, becoming once again the young woman of spirit and vitality she had been before the accident.

There is a lot going on under the surface in this story, and to attempt to cover all of it would take a much longer review – and spoil it for you! I’ll just say that Miranda’s wisdom and tenacity helps Morgan to mend a few fences, and that the book ends on a blissfully hopeful note.

I loved Prospero’s Daughter and am looking forward to reading more of Ms Butler’s work. I just wish SOMEONE would get on with putting her books out in digital formats. Second-hand paperbacks of hers are fairly easy to come by and aren’t too expensive, but I like the space-saving aspect of my Kindle and would love to have them as ebooks.