Thursday, July 25, 2019

Review: A Debutante in Disguise

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B07K8QXJB5/themisaofsupe-20
Is there anything better than when a book comes along that restores your faith in a sub genre?  I love historical romance. I would dare to say it's my first love in the genre. But either I've changed or historical romance has changed (or both) and while I still enjoy historical romance, the ones I love seem to be fewer and farther between. Then along comes a book like A Debutante in Disguise by Eleanor Webster, a romance about an unconventional heroine, one ahead of her time, and it doesn't completely disregard the Regency era in which she's living in. 

Lettuce "Letty" Barton is living a double-life. Before his death, her father indulged her curious mind and interest in science. But then her father passed and her mother is much less indulgent. Letty's mother "married up" and has the same desire for her daughter.  So Letty is put into dresses with a proliferation of ruffles, told to not wear her spectacles, and for heaven's sake, talk about normal things like the weather and not cow pox!  Through a series of events, and with the aid of her brother's name and her sister-in-law's subterfuge, Letty attends and graduates medical school - disguised as a male, of course.  Women not being permitted to practice medicine at the time.  She now lives in the country, taking care of the ailments of the local (and poorer) population and delivering babies.  She lives in one cottage as Miss Barton, and the neighboring cottage is the home of the male, powdered wig wearing, "Dr. Hatfield."

Lord Anthony "Tony" Ashcroft is a younger son and having no interest in the clergy, decided on a military career.  When Napoleon happened, he joined the fight - along with his older brother and best friend.  Tony comes home, with a bullet lodged in his ribs and scars, his older brother and best friend do not.  When their father found out his oldest son and heir was dead?  He dropped dead of a heart attack.  And the best friend who died on the battlefield? Was married to Tony's sister, who only recently learned that she's pregnant.  Tony, drinking heavily as a coping mechanism, with a heaping amount of PTSD and survivor's guilt, agrees to go to his sister's country house where she can ride out the rest of her pregnancy.  But there are complications and the local doctor has to be called - the local doctor being "Dr. Hatfield."

The complication is that years ago, before Tony went off to war, when he was a young, rascally playboy, met Letty at a house party.  She was hiding out in the library reading a medical text.  Their conversation is one neither of them has forgotten.  At first Tony has no inkling that Letty is the same person as "Dr. Hatfield," and naturally when he makes the discovery?  He thinks very differently of the woman he had pegged for being so honest and forthright. A woman who was making him feel something other than empty.

Letty is a marvelous heroine. A heroine with dreams and ambition hemmed in by what society deems is "acceptable" for a lady. When her Big Secret is revealed, Tony's reaction is very typical for what one would expect of men in this time period. "But WHY would you ever want to expose yourself to death and disease? WHY as a lady would you want to do such a thing?"  Frankly, he's a jackass when he finds out.  But half the joy in this romance is watching him come around.
But he could not limit her. He could not take her purpose, but must find his own. He had survived hell. For some reason, he’d lived. He had not asked for life and at times during his recovery he’d wished for death and still felt the heaviness of guilt that he could see and feel and breathe while others could not. He had lived. And he must ensure that he was worthy of this life.
Other conflict comes into play with Tony coming to terms with now being the heir (no longer the spare) and his fear over his sister's health, complicated pregnancy, and health of the unborn child.  Frankly it's a marvelous, grown-up, adult romance with tangible conflict. A heroine who is "unconventional" but does not disregard the societal mores that she is forced to operate in.  If her identity is exposed? Her dreams not only die but the scandal would be irreparable for not only her, but those closest to her.

Which begs the question, how does the author work in a happy ending without having the heroine give up her dreams?  Ah, dear reader, you'll just have to read the book to find out.  In short. I think the author does a marvelous job of it. Neither Letty or Tony give up anything - instead, they become partners.  And if that isn't romance, I'm not sure what is.

Final Grade = A

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