Castaway Hearts is a Super Regency romance. While it’s not as long or complex as a Regency-era historical romance, it’s not like a traditional Regency either. The characters are larger than life, there’s more sensuality than can be found in a trad, and the action/adventure plot is more prominent. Nancy Butler’s traditional Regencies romances are some of my favorites, and this book shows she is very capable of handling longer stories, a good thing considering she’ll be writing historicals in the future.
Two days after Miss Lydia Peartree came to visit her fiance Donald Farthingale, he came down with the measles and the whole house was quarantined. Lydia is staying with Sir Robert Poole, a longtime friend of her family, and he has escorted her around the county to see the sights. One afternoon, Sir Robert arranges for Lydia and her maid to take a short cruise on the Rook, captained by his old friend and protege Matthew Frobisher.
Matthew is not a ship-shape captain at all. He’s tall and lean with a scarred face, white hair and ragged clothing. The Rook‘s crew consists of boys and young men since it is run as a floating school. Matthew was at one time one of the Crown’s best agents, and with Sir Robert’s patronage he teaches these young men reading, math, languages, seamanship, deportment, and other skills that will serve them as future agents for his Majesty’s government.
As the cruise begins, Matthew and Lydia begin to take each other’s measure. At first they are inclined to think the worst of each other, but when a sudden storm threatens, they find their impressions are wrong. Matthew is a superb seaman, and Lydia is fearless, with “the heart of a sailor.” The storm topples a mast and blows the Rook to Finistere in France. Matthew, Lydia, her maid, and the boys camp there to repair the ship. Since Napoleon is in Elba, they are not afraid of hostility from the French, but Matthew’s past as an agent of the Crown comes back to threaten them.
In a traditional Regency the focus is on the romance, whereas in a Regency-era historical the story and the romance ususally share the billing. This book has an exciting story and wonderful characters, but the romance felt a bit rushed to me. Matthew and Lydia go from indiference to animosity to passion with neck-snapping speed. I couldn’t help but think that if Butler had had another fifty or so pages, this would not have been a problem.
And that was the only problem I had with Castaway Hearts. I loved the story – it had enough action adventure and intrigue to satisfy me without being too complex for the shortish length of the book. As for the characters: thumbs up for both of them! Lydia was attractive, intelligent and brave. She’s older than the usual Regency miss, and has her own money. She has become engaged to Donald simply because of his devotion to her. But as we get to know Lydia, we realize that she would have been miserable married to Donald. Lydia needs to be loved and to feel useful. Marriage to Matthew and helping him with his school of boys is exactly the life for her.
Matthew is as strong a character as Lydia. His life has been eventful and sometimes difficult, but he isn’t bitter or hateful. He loves teaching and he loves his school. He and the intelligent, passionate Lydia will make a wonderful couple, and it helps that she loves the sea as much as he does.
As Nancy Butler makes the move to full-length historical romances, I think she will shine. As good as she is in the traditional Regency format, the extra length of an historical will let her stretch out and give her characters more depth. I know I’ll be there at the bookstore whenever she has a new book out.