I have discovered a new fav Regency author! Thanks to Rachel McMillan who always has the best recommendations. This is the second book I’ve read by Carla Kelly — I also enjoyed The Wedding Journey (see my review for it on Goodreads here).
Orphaned as a child, Miss Jane Milton lives to serve her Stover cousins, tending to their every need. Her beloved cousin Blair suffered a slow and painful death from wounds received at the Battle of Waterloo, and now, ten months later, Miss Milton feels utterly forlorn. Her one solace is caring for Lord Canfield’s orphaned son, Andrew, a sad boy dogged by rumors that he was conceived before Lord Canfield married his mother. Is the source of these rumors Miss Milton’s second cousin, the imperious Lady Carruthers, who seems determined to disinherit Andrew in favor of her own profligate son? If only Miss Milton could stand up to the horrid woman and her insults.
Miss Milton finds herself spending more and more time in the company of her neighbor, a handsome tradesman. Mr. Butterfield, said to “smell of the shop,” in fact smells deliciously of lavender. He has an encouraging effect on Miss Milton, helping her to understand that her world will not collapse if she learns to speak her mind.
As her regard for her neighbor grows, Miss Milton remains aware of the many reasons they cannot be together. Fifteen years older, Mr. Butterfield is dangerously liberal-minded and earns his fortune through hard work. And she, whose aristocratic relatives look down on men of his ilk, is an impoverished spinster, almost thirty years old. In truth, the real gulf between them lies in the many guilty secrets they and others seem determined to guard at all costs.
I just want to gush over the deep characterization and perfect construction of this novel! It has family secrets, twists, and an interconnnectedness to it all which I didn’t anticipate at the very beginning but some of which I slowly suspected as the story progressed. Still, it was presented in a manner to engage emotions.
Mr. Butterworth (or Mr. B) is the most delightfully quiet and good-natured hero. His encouragement means so much to Jane, both as her character changes and as her confidence grows. And when he finally FINALLY declares himself to her, he shows that he can be sweetly articulate. His role is often important for all his actions and things unsaid as they are his choices.
Then there’s JANE! The novel is all from her point of view. I really liked that she’s not suddenly someone new at the end of the story, she just finds the courage and necessary wisdom to tactfully make her opinions known. Mr. B sees her — really sees her– when she feels like she hasn’t been noticed. She has, though, and part of the beauty of this story is her realization of the value and friendships she does have, along with the themes of forgiveness, both of self and of others, that intertwine with Jane and Mr. B’s paths.
I want to point out similarities between this novel and a fav, NORTH AND SOUTH. Her name is Milton. He is a cotton mill owner, of “working class”, sometimes brooding and shy to express himself. She is subject to her family and their need of her more than her own free choices. While considering the era, Thornton would be a product of Mr. B’s generation, but there are still similarities that made me happy to ponder and want to rewatch the miniseries for the 58th time.
Content note: this is a clean historical romance with just a very few mild expletives uttered by gentlemen.