The Sergeant's Lady
Romance is full of heroines who make it through marriage: Exchange vows with a duke, or possibly a marquess – or a billionaire CEO in contemporaries –, and you’re made. There are very few Across the Tracks romances in which a hero stems from a lower class than the heroine.
This is especially true for historical romances as in most societies in the past, a woman married into her husband’s class, never the other way round. Thus falling in love with a man below one’s station would be a tough impediment to one’s HEA. In The Sergeant’s Lady, Susanna Fraser addresses this issue and creates a romance that is both deeply moving and realistic.
Anna Arrington is an heiress and sister to viscount. She has spent the last two years following the drum in Spain, accompanying her husband, a cavalry officer and true jerk. When he is killed, she wants to return to Scotland and joins a transport of wounded soldiers to Lisbon. She is pleased that among the company escorting it is Sergeant Will Atkins, whom she met earlier when they both tried to assist a Spanishwoman giving birth, and who impressed her then with his courage and good sense.
One night on the road, Anna and Will share a secret dance and kiss that defy all convention, but both understand that nothing more can come from the deep attraction they feel. Then their small troop encounters a much bigger French one, which takes them prisoner. Will rescues Anna from being raped, and they need to escape the French to save their lives.
What follows now is one of the more delightful road romances I have read in a long time. There are the practicalities of their situation to consider: how they escape pursuit, whether they can get assistance, how they can improve their chances. Anna especially changes a lot, perforce, on the road. But they also talk, and deal with small problems, and get to know each other, and laugh together. In one equally romantic and funny scene they compare their feet. The slow growth of their relationship is beautifully mirrored in the greater degree of physical intimacy between them.
I want to draw attention to Susanna Fraser’s style: It’s never overblown, instead it’s deceptively simple and very much to the point, a true pleasure to read. Take this description of Will after the transport has been captured by the French: “Sergeant Atkins made a splendid figure in his barely suppressed rage, standing tall, anger and contempt etched on his strong-boned features.” Not a “rugged” or “hard planes of his face” anywhere, yet what an evocative despriction! Or here is when Anna sees him naked for the first time: “He was lean, almost thin, but with a wonderful solidity in his broad shoulders and the wiry muscles of his arms.” Can’t you just see him?
What I also particularly liked was the way the secondary characters were developed. For one thing, many of them are immensely likeable: Will’s friend Dan and his Spanish lover, Anna’s cousin and his wife, Will’s captain. And Susanna Fraser gives for many of them just a glimpse of a background story, which made them appear more than just minor inhabitants of this story. I also liked the way the common soldiers were given a face, a competence and a pride of their own. Thus it’s not only Anna who’d have to pay a very high price if she stepped outside the boundaries of her class; this would be true for Will, too.
Up to page 206, I felt sure that what I was holding in my hands was a DIK. But then the lovers separate, and the tone of the story shifts. Kudos to Susanna Fraser for not taking the easy way out and providing a HEA with the help of a deus ex machina, or some improbable conincidence. But Will and Anna’s situation appears rather hopeless, and while the solution presented by the author convinced me fully, it takes a long time of separation, several events and a change in style to get there – less immediacy, more summing up.
The first two thirds of The Sergeant’s Lady were an utter delight to read, the last third was still okay, and the ending worked very well. All in all, this is a novel I recommend highly, and Susanna Fraser has just catapulted herself on my autobuy list.