Like Carla Kelly, Allison Lane’s Regencies are dark forays into human drama. But where Kelly explores class boundaries and moral dilemmas, Lane primarily stays within the human psyche, exposing society’s seamy underbelly and celebrating those who remain true to themselves. Kindred Spirits is an extreme example of that kind of exposition, featuring two psychically wounded characters who find redemption through each other’s faith and love.
To include Kindred Spirits alongside the usual books of the Regency sub-genre is to do both an injustice; this book is not light-hearted at all, nor does it require familiarity with the period and the genre to comprehend it. It is, rather, a near-miss romantic tragedy set in the Regency.
Colonel Jack Caldwell (who appeared in two of Lane’s other books, Devall’s Angel and The Unscrupulous Uncle) has just returned from Waterloo, wounded in both body and soul. As the novel opens, he is on his recently inherited estate, planning his suicide. He believes he has done something horrible while serving in the Army and, despite the fact that he’s spent his entire life valiantly trying to fight it, that his bad blood both father and brother are irredeemable blackguards has triumphed. Jack’s most remarkable trait is his honor, a quality that has served both friends and strangers well.
Twelve years prior to the start of the story, Jack had assisted a stranger, a young English girl named Marianne Barnett, fleeing from France after losing her family. Jack, Marianne and a young maid made it to England, and Jack deposited the girl into the care of her uncle. Now twenty-four years old, Marianne lives on the estate she inherited from her father, all alone except for her elderly servants. She is agoraphobic, encouraged in her reclusive behavior by the uncle who does not allow her to leave the estate. He believes she is mad and is trying to keep her and his family’s name protected from society’s gossips. She comes into her entire estate when she turns twenty-five, and she plans on continuing her life as she knows it. At least until she meets Jack Caldwell again. Her unfamiliarity with social convention means that she is more attuned to people’s real emotional states (not the ones with which they meet society), so she is fully aware of Jack’s despair. She repairs her own damaged psyche, and confronts the mystery of her past only through trying to help Jack.
Jack, too, is only saved through his caring and devotion to Marianne. He is determined that she shall recover and face the various trials that society and her uncle force her to endure, because if she fails he will have to acknowledge that he has ultimately failed, as well. He is immediately aware of Marianne’s attractiveness, but fights it as he fights most every other positive emotion because he believes he taints everyone with whom he comes in contact. These two incredibly damaged people fall in love because they each have an inner strength that belies their presumed weaknesses.
Lane is unrelenting in her portrayal of the less likable characters in her books. Sometimes she can be pedantically condemning, and it can be hard to stomach. She does, however, have an incisive way of skewering peoples’ weaknesses, and, while she is frequently over the top, she is also frequently on target. In stark contrast to everyone else, her protagonists remain, without exception, true to Themselves, whether or not they fit society’s standards. It’s clear that Lane despises hypocrisy, and sees it in society.
Kindred Spirits is almost claustrophobic in its telling, with Jack and Marianne’s respective internal monologues constantly assaulting the reader. The plot is almost secondary, the action serving merely to reinforce the book’s primary rallying cry: Redemption Through Love. Kindred Spirits is not an easy read, nor is it a book especially for Regency readers; it is a book about two damaged people finding love and trust through some harrowing experiences.