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…
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.