Many die-hard Regency fans are unhappy with the current trend in the genre to include lots of plot and action. I want it known at the outset that I am not such a fan. I am perfectly willing to take my Regencies with spies and villains and all sorts of derring do. This being said, I also like my Regencies to concentrate heavily on the romance. I fear
that in her final book about the Langford brothers, April Kihlstrom included so much plot that the romance almost got lost in the shuffle. Which is a shame, because she created an intriguing hero and heroine.
Colonel Harry Langford, one of Wellington’s most trusted officers, is sent on a mission into France. The messages sent via the code/beacon system devised by Harry’s brother James (see The Wily Wastrel) are not getting through and Wellington wants to know why. Harry and his associate discover that their agent is incapacitated with a broken leg. Harry is about to start back to Spain when he discovers a strangely
dressed figure washed up on the beach.
At first glance, Harry assumes that he is seeing some kind of Arab prince; a closer look shows him that he has found a woman and an Englishwoman at that.
Prudence Marland is the niece of a British diplomat on his way to peace talks on the continent. Since effective negotiations require up to date knowledge of the military situation in Spain, Prudence has decided to travel there in disguise. It was here, right at the beginning, that Kihlstrom started to lose me. I have a relatively high implausibility
quotient, but this was way over the top.
Duty requires Harry to help his beached countrywoman and the two set off through France dressed first as a priest and a nun, and later as a pair of gypsies. Prudence proves her pluck when she guts a French soldier who has captured the pair, despite her pacifistic beliefs. (These seemed somewhat improbable although an explanation was provided at the end of the book.)
The two make it to Spain, where, of course, they are forced to marry having spent all that time together alone. Now, at this point, I was almost willing to forgive the inauspicious beginning (Kihlstrom could have found some other way of getting them together) and settle down for one of my favorite plots -- the forced marriage. And the situation had
promise. After all, the two had come to like and admire each other during their sojourn in France.
Then came another complication. Harry is wounded and sent home. It looks like his military career is over. So, in addition to the forced marriage, we have the soldier’s readjustment to civilian life and to his own disability. OK, said I, I like that twist.
However, once we get Harry and Prudence back to England and into the bosom of his family, we take off in another direction completely. This brings Prudence into conflict with Harry who is feeling pretty useless with his bum leg. And, and, and....
With all this going on, there isn’t much time to show Harry’s and Prudence’s developing romance, especially when Kihlstrom also has to work out the changing relationship between Harry’s starchy brother and sister-in-law, who have been becoming progressively less starchy as the books progress.
I have a real feeling that readers who are unfamiliar with the first two books in the series will find The Sentimental Soldier something of a puzzle. On the other hand, readers who have read The Reckless Barrister and The Wily Wastrel will probably want to see how the whole story comes out.
Kihlstrom is usually a very reliable Regency author, but I don’t think she has shown at her best in the Langford trilogy. I’m glad she’s bringing back Miss Tibbles in her next book.