I use the word “lovely” too much in everyday conversation. I try to be more creative and thesaurusy in these reviews, but lovely really is the best word for this novel. Carla Kelly writes sweet, gentle, sincere Regency romances and The Lady’s Companion is no exception. Kelly does not reinvent the wheel*. She follows her romance tropes and brings everything to a happy, satisfying ending. I have read four of her books in rapid succession, thank you Rochelle, and I have another one waiting on my Kindle. Unlike Kelly’s novels that I reviewed previously, this book goes beyond “just kisses”, while maintaining its oblique decorum in the love scenes.
Originally published in 1996, The Lady’s Companion is the story of Susan Hampton, a genteelly impoverished lady whose marital and future hopes have been dashed on the rocks of her wastrel father’s gambling addiction. Where, oh where, would romance novels be without shiftless male relatives casually ruining women’s lives? After moving in with her aunt, Susan recognises that unless she does something, and right quick, she will disappear into the role of servile relative for the rest of her days. She finds an employment agency and gets hired as a companion to Lady Bushnell in the Cotswolds.
Lady Bushnell is not happy to have yet another unnecessary companion and Susan must find a way to make herself useful. The farm is being managed by Lady Bushnell’s bailiff, David Wiggins. He served as a sergeant under Lord Bushnell in the Napoleonic Wars and has a debt of honour to the family. David is what The Dowager Julien would describe as a “nice-nice man”, gentle, kind, and loyal. Susan is out of his reach socially, but since David doesn’t care about such nonsense and Susan has no use for the so-called social superiority that ruined her, they have a chance to carve out a life for themselves on their own terms and defy the conventions that would seek to limit them. Everything proceeds towards the happy ending at a calm and reasonable pace, free of melodrama, but not of challenges. Kelly’s writing is not only strong when showing Susan and David’s growing relationship, but also wonderfully evocative in terms of the setting and time period.