September 2011, European Historical Romance (1813 England)
Avon, $7.99, 400 pages, Amazon ASIN 0062049836 Part of a series
Reviewing books is fun, but sometimes it's absolutely wonderful, especially on those occasions when you're given the advanced reading copy of that book. You know, that book, the one that it seems everyone in the known world is anticipating. So when I lucked out and received an ARC of Tessa Dare's latest, A Night to Surrender, I didn't know whether to dance around for joy, or spread the news and bask in the envy. Ultimately I did neither, but my opinion after finishing this excellent book is that either action would have been appropriate.
Susanna Finch is the de facto social director/queen of her own little paradise, a small coastal village called Spindle Cove. The town is run by women, and with Susanna at the helm, has become a place where genteel families send their problematic female relatives. If a girl is shy, fragile, or promiscuous, she will benefit from Susanna's rigid schedule of activities, while the town benefits from the steady flow of cash. What the families don't know is that the rigid schedule includes lessons on swimming in the ocean and weapons training, along with the gardening and walks.
Into this rarefied atmosphere steps Lieutenant Colonel Victor Bramwell, Bram, enroute to visit Susanna's father. Bram hopes that Mr. Finch, a famous weapons engineer, will acknowledge that Bram has recuperated from a grievous wound and recommend that Bram be sent back to active duty on the warfront. Instead, Mr. Finch advises Bram that a long-dead title has been dusted off and awarded to Bram for valor, and that now he's responsible for raising a local militia to secure Spindle Cove against possible French invasion. Bram is expected to stay in the village until his militia can be reviewed by higher-ups, at which point the topic of whether or not he's ready for combat will be revisited.
This book is hilarious from the outset. Bram and Susanna meet when Bram and his entourage plant explosives in the road in an effort to move a herd of sheep blocking their way. The sheep are stampeded right into the middle of an interview with a reluctant widow of three girls whom Susanna wants to keep with her for the summer. Bram has to throw himself on Susanna to keep her from being injured by an explosion, explaining that they were bombing sheep to get them to move. She decides he's insane and speaks to him appropriately.
Bram's efforts to find enough men for his militia are also very amusing. There is almost no testosterone left in the village. The blacksmith, when approached, is hunched over a delicate locket instead of banging away at an anvil. The tavern has been turned into a tea room and the keeper puts a lot of effort into making fairy cakes. The only true marksmen in the village are Susanna and her charges.
These are not the only scenes that make a reader smile. If I were to list every one this review would go on forever, but readers should pay particular attention to the scene where Bram is trying to speak with Mr. Finch about Susanna. Suffice it to say that many joyful moments add to this book's charm.
There is a lot more than humor in this character driven story, however. Susanna and Bram have a lot of baggage. Sent to live with relatives when her mother died, Susanna found herself given to the care of quack doctors in an effort to cure her "melancholy." Treatment was what you'd expect for the time, icy baths, shaving her head to apply leaches to her scalp, and various other tortures including her having been bled so savagely that she has scars all up and down her arms. Her father eventually rescued her, but she has known no love since - her father is cold and preoccupied with his arms invention. Bram also grew up motherless. He spent his formative years in school while his military hero father waged war with France. Bram is wild to get back to the fighting, which is basically the only purpose he has in life, never having known a home or love either. To him, his wound is a reason for shame.
It's a wonder that Bram and Susanna ever get together. They're deeply attracted to one another physically and emotionally, but their goals are completely opposite. Susanna wants nothing more than to stay home and continue rescuing her misfit women and Bram wants nothing more than to go - right now! But they talk, a lot, and listen to each other closely. Through these conversations they gain amazing insight into one another. Susanna in particular knows Bram to the bottom of his soul, and is constantly aware of, and minstering to, his vulnerabilities.
A Night to Surrender is a typical Tessa Dare product, so I won't go on and on about how great the writing is, or the dialogue, or the pacing, or the characterization and history, or the love scenes, blah blah blah - it's all much more than satisfactory. I'm a huge fan of her previous work, but I think this is her best effort yet.
If you love strong but vulnerable heroes and and smart, wounded heroines, you'll love this book. If you like humor in your romance, you'll love this book. If you like a well-written historical romance, you'll love this book. Whatever your preference, when you read the last page you'll undoubtedly clutch the book to your chest and sigh. And envy my having been able to read it early!
-- Wendy Clyde
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