Desert Isle Keeper
Lady Elizabeth's Comet
Heroines with a scientific bent seem a dime a dozen in historical romance at the moment; some of them are credible, others less so. One of the earliest and most convincing heroines of this kind that I know of is Lady Elizabeth Conway in Sheila Simonson’s Lady Elizabeth’s Comet, which was first published in 1986. It’s one of my favorite Regency romances.
Lady Elizabeth Conway, the eldest daughter of an earl, lives in peace and comfort in the Dower House of her recently deceased father’s principal seat and devotes most of her time and energy to astronomical studies, using the telescope her father permitted her to set up. Not even the arrival of two teenage sisters (she has eight sisters all in all) really disturbs her. When the novel starts, she has just discovered what may well be a new comet.
Very soon, there is a second interruption: Her father’s heir arrives. The new Earl of Clanross is a very distant cousin, whose branch of the family was heartily despised by the old earl, and whom Elizabeth has never met. Clanross used to be a soldier, and he is still suffering very much from a severe wound. Elizabeth is at first inclined to to make fun of his stiff bearing, and she is astonished to find out that Clanross’s best friend, who comes to stay for a while, is none other that Lord Bevis, whose offer of marriage she refused some years earlier.
The story is told in the first person; thus the reader identifies automatically with Elizabeth. She is clever, witty when she wants to be, mostly honest with herself, self-sufficient, and very capable in moments of crisis. At the same time, she has settled in a comfortable kind of selfishness, devoting lots of energy to her studies but very little to anyone or anything else. When her sisters, Clanross, and Bevis arrive, she must reconsider her priorities – at least to some extent, as astronomy still remains of the utmost importance to her.
The novel’s hero is an utter delight. Elizabeth first regards him with mixed feelings, and so it takes a while for the reader to get his true measure. But then! For anyone who loves strong men who don’t make a fuss about themselves, here’s the perfect hero. He knows his heart far earlier than Elizabeth does, which leads to some funny scenes during which she wonders at his actions and the reader just melts into a puddle. Well, I do.
The novel’s quality attains further heights when Elizabeth finally discovers the truth about her own emotions. She finds it impossible to deal with them, and the account of her reactions is both very painful and very true, making for a deeply intense read.
There are some great minor characters as well, some which make an appearance in two other novels: The Bar Sinister, which is mostly a prequel to Lady Elizabeth’s Comet, and Love and Folly, which is its sequel. All of these novels are delightful, but Lady Elizabeth’s Comet is, in my eyes, the best among them. This is one book that I own in both paper and e-copies, and I am truly glad it’s available again as I can recommend it most highly to anyone who likes Regencies with a flavor of the period as well as fascinating characters.