The Lost Letter
Mimi Matthews’ The Lost Letter is a sweet second-chance romance that is very readable, but also trope-heavy and predictable as a result. It’s still worth your time, especially if you’re a fan of this author or just looking for an historical romance that’s solid if not spectacular.
Sylvia Stafford, an impoverished gentlewoman, works as a governess in Cheapside. The routine of her life is interrupted though, when Lady Julia Harker insists on meeting her. Julia is the sister of Sebastian, the Earl of Radcliffe, who returned from India three years earlier, horribly scarred in the Sepoy Rebellion. Now he refuses to go out in public or meet anyone, and Julia claims to be terrified that Sebastian is going to kill himself.
But Sylvia might be able to save him. Before he left for India, they shared a passionate kiss, and he asked for a lock of her hair to take with him. Having seen him holding that memento like a lifeline, Julia hopes that Sylvia’s presence will give him something to live for.
For her part, Sylvia is not interested in rekindling the embers, because she wrote over a hundred letters to Sebastian when he was in India, and never got a single reply. But she was shunned by society after her profligate father killed himself, so the prospect of Sebastian taking his own life affects her deeply, and she accepts Julia’s invitation to spend a month in Sebastian’s country home. To Sylvia’s dismay, Sebastian isn’t expecting her, and as the days pass, it becomes obvious that he doesn’t even seem to like her.
Naturally, Sebastian is intensely attracted to Sylvia. But he can’t bear for anyone to see his face, and he wrote to her repeatedly from India without getting a reply. He concluded that she had been merely flirting with him three years ago, and thinks she has now decided that being a countess will be better than being part of the working class. So he’s all the colder to her as a result.
In other words, this story has all the tropes :
- Hero with hang-ups about the facial scars he sustained in battle, said scars weighing more heavily in the social balance than his accomplishments, his title, his fortune, and the rest of his imposing appearance.
- Heroine who reacts to adversity by supporting herself, finding what happiness she can, and being unfailingly kind to everyone.
- Third party keeps the hero and heroine apart by intercepting letters. Neither of them tries any alternative means of contacting each other or even of delivering said letters. Instead, each of them assumes that the love of their life has abandoned them.
- Heroine can’t sleep, so she goes to the library in her nightgown. Libraries are more of a mating zone than notorious gaming-hells.
- After the hero and heroine reconnect, a Big Mis and separation occur when she thinks he wants her as a mistress. Though what sort of man says “arrangement” when he means “marriage”? (A man who knows the story must have eighty more pages, that’s who)
That said, the story has its strong points. I liked Sylvia’s steadfast nature and composure, especially in the face of Sebastian’s unpleasant behavior at the start. She also has enough self-respect that when she thinks he wants her as a mistress, she returns to London, relieved that their passionate reconnection had stopped short of sex, because she couldn’t have risked a pregnancy. It’s great to see a heroine written with historical accuracy.
And Julia is fun. Sure, she’s impulsive and a bit of a fibber, but she cares about other people’s happiness. I would have liked to see her and her husband together on the page, because although he is not handsome or forceful, he loves her and won’t tolerate anyone treating her badly.
Sebastian, on the other hand, is sunk so deep in his passive misery that I eventually got tired of him. He makes a deeply romantic speech at the end though, and that was wonderful to read. Another improvement to this story would be showing how he dealt with his self-consciousness about meeting people, because all he does is make a baby step or two in that direction.
Most of all, what made me keep reading anxiously was the fate of the missing letters, and especially Sylvia’s concern over the first one, which she believed had caused the breach between her and Sebastian because of the incautious words she’d written. So although this isn’t a plot-heavy romance, there was enough to keep me hooked.
The Lost Letter isn’t a romance for the ages, but it was a good way to pass some time. Mimi Matthews’ writing is assured and descriptive, making the world of her story easy to imagine, and readers who love traditional takes on Beauty and the Beast should enjoy this.