Outstanding audiobook version of a fabulous Regency romance
Reading Level: Adult Romance
Release Date: November 26, 2018
Publisher: Pandamax Press
Length: 12 hours and 43 minutes (Unabridged)
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry
For over a decade, Lord Michael Kenyon, who is the younger son of a Duke, has carved out a career as a dynamic officer in the British Army under the command of the Duke of Wellington. Currently 31 years of age, Michael has recovered from many different wounds throughout his military service during the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815). But the wounds he incurs during the final, decisive Battle of Waterloo in 1815, after Napoleon escapes from Elba, threaten his very survival.
Catherine Melbourne has been married to a military man the past 12 years since the age of 16, and she is currently 28 years old. She and her 11-year-old daughter have “followed the drum” along with her military spouse, enduring with her husband the dangers and deprivations experienced by the military during the Napoleonic Wars. In the process, she has toughened up both physically and mentally, becoming an expert at making a comfortable home for her husband and daughter in any temporary housing situation, no matter how rough, and she has grown into an outstanding battlefield nurse. She has earned the admiring nickname, Saint Catherine, due primarily to her selfless service nursing the wounded. But also, importantly, because of her ongoing, unimpeachable virtue in the face of constant opportunities to break her marriage vows with adoring military men. These offers occur both because she is an exquisitely beautiful woman, and because everyone knows her handsome, charming husband constantly cheats on her.
In the days before and after the Battle of Waterloo, Michael is lodged in the same large house in Belgium with Catherine, her husband and daughter, Catherine’s best friend, who is a fellow military wife, the friend’s military husband, their two children and pets, a hugely talented surgeon (who is there temporarily while treating wounded soldiers after Waterloo), and Kenneth Wilding, a fellow officer and close friend of Michael’s. (Kenneth is the hero of the next book in this series, River of Fire.)
While living under the same roof, Catherine and Michael become platonic friends and, unknown to each other, they each fall in love. It is a star-crossed love than cannot be spoken aloud, because they are both honorable people. When Catherine risks her life to save Michael from terrible battle wounds, it forms a further, deeper bond between them that can never be broken. On the day everyone in the shared household goes their separate way after Waterloo, Michael informs Catherine that if she ever needs anything from him, at any time, she has only to ask.
A year later, after her husband, who survived endless battles without a scratch, is murdered, Catherine returns to England with her daughter and stays with her best friend and the friend’s family in London. Out of the blue, Catherine is offered the chance to inherit a fortune and a title from her paternal grandfather, whom she has never met before because years ago he disinherited her mother for marrying Catherine’s father against his wishes. In dire financial straits, because her feckless husband left her nothing but his unpaid debts, Catherine is eager to pursue this opportunity for her daughter’s sake. Unfortunately, her grandfather considers the inheritance a package deal. He will only make Catherine his heir jointly with a husband, and he must approve of the husband. In addition, her grandfather is very ill, might die soon, and she must come and be interviewed by him right away. Since she no longer has a husband, Catherine despairs of being able to win over her grandfather until she remembers Michael’s offer to help her in any way, whatsoever, that she desires. What if Michael were willing to temporarily pretend to be her husband? It would solve all her problems.
When Catherine approaches Michael with her desperate request, she does her best to lie as little as possble. But she is unwilling to let Michael know she is now ethically and legally available to become romantically involved with him because, as an honorable man, after pretending to be her husband, he might feel obligated to offer her marriage for real. Catherine cannot let that happen due to a deep, dark secret which she believes makes her forever ineligible to marry again. For this reason, when she asks Michael to pretend to be her husband, she tells him it is because her husband has not yet returned from France–which she assures herself is actually technically true, because he is buried there.
Michael is not pleased with participating in a deception, which he believes can have unanticipated negative consequences. But he feels very protective of Catherine, wants very much to help her and, most of all, cannot resist the opportunity to spend stolen time with the woman he hopelessly adores.
This is an emotionally intense, excitingly adventurous, and beautifully written historical romance. The first part of the book, in addition to showing, with great depth of feeling, the initial stages of the relationship between Michael and Catherine, contains a vivid portrayal of the Battle of Waterloo from Michael’s point of view as a brave and dynamic leader of the infantrymen in his command. It also, in very accurate, historical detail, shows what it is like for Catherine to nurse the wounded, including Michael, in an era when trauma medicine was horrifyingly primitive.
The second part of the book occurs a year after Napoleon’s final defeat. Due to the presence of a scary villain, this segment also contains plenty of thrilling action-adventure. And because of the fake-marriage plot, the romance between Michael and Catherine really takes off. This is a “slow burn” romance, and the several scenes which include lovemaking are extremely tender and sensually enthralling without resorting to crudity in language or descriptions.
Both protagonists in this book are what I consider the very best kind in either romance or action-adventure plots. They get into trouble because they are honorable, compassionate people, what I call “Positive Warriors,” rather than due to negative motivations and character flaws. Also, whenever they are faced with adversity, they both display boundless courage, creative thinking and perseverance.
There are many delightful subcharacters in this novel, including cameo appearances by fellow “Fallen Angel” friends of Michael (who each have their own novel in this series of inter-linked books), Catherine’s best friend and her family, Catherine’s grandfather and, most enjoyable of all, Catherine’s daughter, Amy, who is as brave, caring, loyal and intelligent as her mother. (Note that Amy is the heroine of MJP’s third Bride romance novel, The Bartered Bride, in that book going by her middle name, Alexandra, with the nickname, Alex.)
The historical details in this book are offered in the most effective and entertaining way. They are never presented in a didactic manner, but rather are seamlessly woven into the story in order to vividly bring this period of history to life as it plays out dramatically in the lives of the protagonists.
I have read this book multiple times over the years and have owned it as a mass-market paperback, as a Kindle edition, and have recently had the opportunity to listen to a newly produced audiobook version. This audio recording is of outstanding quality. The narrator is Siobhan Waring, a British voice talent who does an excellent job with the voices of characters of all ages, both genders, and many regional accents. It was a pleasure re-experiencing this terrific historical romance in this audiobook format. I am sure I will happily listen to this keeper recording many other times in the future, and I recommend it to fellow historical-romance fans without reservation.
I rate this audiobook as follows:
Wartime Plot: 5
Fake-Marriage Plot: 5
Action-Adventure Plot: 5
Historical Details: 5
Audibook Quality: 5