>> Saturday, March 29, 2014
TITLE: The Surgeon's Lady
AUTHOR: Carla Kelly
PUBLISHER: Mills & Boon Historical
SETTING: Early 19th century England
TYPE: Historical romance
SERIES: Follows Marrying The Captain
Coldly sold for marriage to the highest bidder, Lady Laura Taunton does not hold much faith in love and kindness. The war against Napoleon only serves to echo this feeling, until she meets intriguing Royal Naval surgeon Lieutenant Brittle – a man who’s the exact opposite of her cruel late husband. Taking up his offer to help aid the battle’s injured, Laura starts to believe that she could have a place in the world…and a man who can show her true happiness.
We meet Lady Laura Taunton at a bit of a turning point in her life. She's recently widowed and the death of her husband, meant relief, rather than bereavement. It's not just that he was a much older man her father forced her into marrying and he was obsessed with getting her pregnant. It's also that Laura spent the last few years nursing her husband after a really bad stroke, and she's glad both of them are free of this (I didn't quite get why she felt she had to do the most intimate tasks of nursing an invalid herself, when she did not like the man, they had plenty of money to hire someone else to do them, and it's not like fine ladies were expected to take on such tasks, anyway, but I was willing to suspend disbelief and go with it).
Laura has recently found out that she wasn't her father's only illegitimate daughter, and as the book starts, she decides to get over her fear and contact one of the others, Nana. Rather than write and give herself time to chicken out, Laura just gets on a carriage and travels to the house where Nana lives with her new husband.
Nana is married to a ship captain, and at her place, Laura meets Lt. Philemon Brittle, a naval surgeon. Each is very impressed by the other, but their stations are far apart, and both assume they'll never see each other again. But then Nana, who's far along in her pregnancy, asks Laura to make the trip to the hospital to visit a boy who served on her husband's ship and has been wounded in battle. And of course, the boy is being cared for in Philemon's ward, so the two reconnect.
The Surgeon's Lady started out pretty confusing. This is the 2nd book in a series, and Kelly drew heavily on the events of the 1st book in this section. For a while I wondered who Nana and Lord Ratcliff were and why Laura was afraid to contact Nana, and I felt hopelessly muddled. I got it after a while, and things got off the ground, but throughout the book, I felt like there were things I didn't quite get, and I suspected I'd understand their significance a lot better if I'd read book 1. For instance, all the stuff about Laura and Nana's father and his perfidy. We only get passing references to his treatment of Laura and what happened when he forced her to marry her husband. It sounds like he wasn't at all a loving father to Laura, but deciding whom his daughter should marry doesn't seem extraordinarily mean or cruel. And yet Laura flips at the very idea of seeing him again, while she seems to forgive her late husband, who was basically verbally and sexually abusive. I'm pretty sure if I'd read the first book I'd have understood her feelings towards her father much better, but from what was in this book, it doesn't quite make sense.
The middle sections, though, I loved. Laura's visit to Philemon's hospital ends up with her accepting an offer to work as a matron, both organising the place and dealing with patients. The hospital stuff is fascinating, and I really liked the camaraderie that develops. I particularly loved Philemon's immediate assumption that Laura is competent and caring and will want to and can help. It's not based on nothing (after all, he knows she's nursed her late husband even though she wasn't in love with him), but he could have assumed that as a lady there was no way she would even consider coming within a mile of, as they're described here, "common tars". Actually, it might strain disbelief that he does assume this, but it's just such a Philemon thing to do. The man is completely focused on healing and helping people, and I thought he was lovely.
I loved all this, but Kelly kind of lost me as we got closer to the end. I lost interest in what was going on once the main thrust of the plot wasn't the work in the hospital any longer, but the romance and whether Laura could trust another man given her treatment by her late husband. I don't know why I wasn't interested in this, it's exactly the sort of plot that appeals to me and that I've liked in the past. It just didn't work for me here. I guess it might be that there wasn't much tension to it. I knew exactly what was going to happen, and there were no surprises, so I was bored.
So, a really good middle, bookended by a begining and an end that didn't really work for me. I'd still recommend reading it (especially if you have read the 1st book in the series), but Kelly's definitely written better.
MY GRADE: A B-.