Trusting Miss Trentham
Trusting Miss Trentham is the third book in Emily Larkin’s Baleful Godmother series of historical romances with a paranormal twist. Owing to the good deed done by one of their ancestresses, each of the heroines is entitled to receive a gift from their Faerie Godmother – whom they call Baletongue – on their twenty-first or twenty-fifth birthday (depending on their line of descent). These stories are primarily romances, however, so if you’re looking for a high-concept paranormal, you won’t find it here. The love stories are at the centre of these books, and Ms. Larkin writes those with a great deal of insight and assurance, imbuing her tales with a strong sense of period and peopling them with interesting and engaging characters who behave and think in a manner that is appropriate for the time.
Miss Letitia Trentham is one of the wealthiest women in England and has, by the age of twenty-seven, turned down around two-hundred proposals of marriage. Having chosen the gift of being able to detect lies, she has rebuffed just about every fortune hunter in the country – who are the only men to have offered for her. She knows she is not pretty or possessed of the other sorts of qualities likely to attract men; she doesn’t simper or defer, plus she’s intelligent and not afraid to show it, which isn’t a much admired quality on the marriage mart. She has just turned down yet another hopeful when she is approached by a tall, gaunt man with a military bearing and an undeniable air of exhaustion who has heard of her uncanny ability to be able to tell truth from lies – and who asks for her help.
Icarus Reid, formerly a major in His Majesty’s army, resigned his commission after the battle of Vimeiro and, although not completely recovered from a serious illness, has travelled back to England. He explains to Letty that he is searching for a traitor; he, a Portuguese officer and three scouts were betrayed before the battle and captured, and Reid is the only one of them who survived. He desperately wants to discover the identity of that traitor and then take steps to have him brought to justice, and he asks Letty if she will accompany him to meet with his two main suspects and use her talent for detecting lies to help him uncover the truth.
Letty senses that Reid is a potentially dangerous man and is naturally wary; but after hearing his story and extracting a promise that he will not kill whichever of the men turns out to have been responsible, she agrees to accompany him to meet with the suspects, even though one of them is a prisoner in the Marshalsea. Information gleaned gives Reid three more names to investigate, but none of those men are in London. Exhilarated at the newfound feeling of freedom she has experienced as a result of the subterfuges needed to ensure she was able to meet Reid in secret, Letty offers to accompany him to Basingstoke to find the first of the men on the list. Reid is reluctant to accept because of the damage that could be done to her reputation; his behaviour in insisting she enter a prison and spend time in the company of unsavoury men was less than honourable and he is not feeling particularly proud of himself as a result. But Letty has a plan – and even though he knows he should not allow her to become any more involved, Reid’s desire to root out the traitor is stronger than his gentlemanly instincts.
The tone of Trusting Miss Trentham is rather more sombre than the previous two books, but that is quite fitting considering that the hero is an extremely troubled man who continues to be plagued by nightmares and memories of the terrible things he endured during his military service. As Letty and Reid travel to Basingstoke and then further, she begins to have suspicions as to what is distressing him so deeply, but Reid steadfastly refuses to tell the truth about what happened to him at Vimeiro or to let her get close to him. Yet her quiet, steadfast care of him every night when he wakes, sick and disorientated from his tortured dreams starts to break down his resistance and he slowly begins to reassess her, to value her intelligence, her kindness and her determination and discovers – against his better judgement – that he can’t bear the idea of being without her.
Ms. Larkin does a fantastic job in conveying the depth of Reid’s anger and despair, and the way in which Letty’s calming presence in his life and their growing intimacy gradually start to remind him of what it’s like to be alive. I can’t remember the last time I read – or if I ever have read – a hero of a romance novel quite like him; so worn out and tormented by memories – and I should say here that Ms. Larkin makes no bones about what happened to him in Portugal. Her descriptions are not graphic but they are disturbing nonetheless.
Letty is a wonderful character and again, is quite unlike many other historical romance heroines I’ve read. She’s incredibly wealthy and, she thinks, rather plain, and has given up on the idea of finding a man who wants her for herself and not her money and decided to dedicate her life and considerable fortune to charitable works. I liked her persistence, her kindness and her practical nature; and her concern for propriety rings very true for a woman of her time. But she hasn’t realised quite how hemmed in she has been by it until she resorts to deception in order to meet Reid to go to the Marshalsea. For the sake of respectability, she and Reid travel as man and wife, and Letty discovers a real sense of freedom at not being surrounded by servants or people toadying to her, so much so, that the thought of returning to her former life is somewhat depressing.
The relationship that develops between the couple progresses slowly and is quietly understated, which is feels exactly right given the tenor of the story. Letty’s initial infatuation develops into something far deeper as she begins to see past the man burdened by misdirected guilt and self-hatred to the man Reid could and should be, the good-natured, easy-going and confident man with whom she is falling more in love every day.
Reid berates himself for not treating Letty more kindly, but he is driven by his purpose to the exclusion of pretty much all else, and he certainly doesn’t want to fall in love. Letty’s care of him is extremely touching, clearly showing the truth of her feelings for him; she wants him to be well and happy, and unfortunately, in her pursuit of his happiness makes a major error one night which threatens to shatter what is already a fragile relationship.
Fortunately however, both Reid and Letty are mature enough to be able to talk it through and to move on in a positive way. In fact, apart from Reid’s refusal to talk about Vimeiro, all their conversations are characterised by honesty and good sense, clearly showing their mutual respect, and liking, even when they are both annoyed with one another. I also liked the way that Ms. Larkin effects Reid’s recovery; there’s no overnight cure, or, as Letty admits to herself, any guarantee that he will ever be completely healed, but there is the real sense that he has achieved closure and is ready to move on with his life. And if Letty’s love and unconditional support give Reid something worth living for, in return, he provides her with the love and happiness she’d never thought to have.
Trusting Miss Trentham goes to some dark places, but is no less enjoyable for that. It doesn’t have quite the same sparkle as the first book – Unmasking Miss Appleby – but it’s certainly well-written, the characterisation of the two principals is excellent and the story is compelling. There is a strongly written set of secondary characters as well, two of whom – Letty’s cousin, Lucas Kemp, and Lieutenant Tom Matlock, who served with Reid – are going to get their own story in the next book, Claiming Mister Kemp. Until then, however, Trusting Miss Trentham is another very strong entry in this entertaining and unusual series, and while it can be read as a standalone, I’d recommend starting at the beginning – simply because the earlier books are too good to miss.