Having written traditional Regencies and one Super Regency, Amanda McCabe makes a solid debut in her first full length Regency historical, Lady Midnight.
Katerina Bruni, the daughter of the most famous courtesan in Venice, is at a party on a yacht with her potential first protector, her mother, and her mother’s protector when a sudden storm capsizes it. Katerina alone survives, washing up bloodied and battered on a beach somewhere in Italy. Some peasants find her and kindly give her medical attention and shelter. While Katerina recovers from her injuries, the ghost of her mother visits her and urges her to take this opportunity to create a new life for herself.
One year later, Katerina is now a widow named Kate Brown living in London and struggling to find employment without any references. The money from selling her jewels dwindling, Kate jumps at the chance to be a governess in remote Yorkshire. The post chaise taking Kate to her employer’s home unfortunately breaks down, and while Kate is waiting for the coachman to return with help, a handsome young man drives up and, charmed by her Italian accent, flirts with her. They are both enjoying themselves until he realizes she is Mrs. Kate Brown, his new governess and she realizes he is Mr. Michael Lindley, her new employer, and each hastily step back to maintain a professional distance. Mr. Lindley decides to drive Kate himself to the house to meet her charges – his fifteen-year-old sister Christina, and Amelia, his seven-year-old daughter.
What follows is a lovely, uncomplicated, and completely believable story of two people falling in love over passion and mutual interests, such as Italy and Shakespeare, and overcoming the reasonable obstacles to their HEA. Kate and Michael do not immediately begin a relationship, sensibly realizing the censure that comes with two people of different stations in life. They also have secrets; Kate knows her past, if revealed, would certainly bring about her dismissal as a governess, a position she desperately needs, as well as total rejection from society, and Michael suffers from the guilt of his own secret every day. Frankly, his friends and even his mother could have guessed Michael’s secret, so it’s a wonder why he keeps it to himself for so long, but it certainly set up the wonderful scene in which he reveals it to Kate and, with her help, is able to forgive himself.
It’s rare and delightful to read a romance that unfolds gradually and almost realistically, which must have been helped by the book’s length of slightly more than 400 pages. There are also appealing scenes of Kate and her growing relationship with Michael’s sister and daughter and slices of English village life. The plot skillfully weaves in Italian images and words.
Kate and Michael are wonderful and admirable characters. Raised to be a courtesan by her mother, with a courtesan’s cynical take on life, Kate nevertheless is a good and warm person, with a self-deprecating way of viewing things that always got a small chuckle out of me. Michael is caring, kind, a loving father and a good brother. Even the villain threaded into the plot is three dimensional; alternately deranged, menacing, and sympathetic.
The only noteworthy complaint is that McCabe has a penchant of using italicized words for emphasis. Once or twice, here and there, and occasional use is fine, but when they pop up on every other page, it is disconcerting. I counted at least 24 italicized words by chapter three, including the prologue, and five of them on page 35 alone. McCabe’s storytelling and writing skills are fine enough without this excessive emphasis.
Otherwise, this is a well-plotted, well-paced book, and one I do not hesitate to recommend.