|Amnesia is a fascinating concept. What would it be like to lose all memories of one's past life? How would one feel? How could one cope? Amnesia is also a very common plot device in romantic fiction. (Immensely more common than it is in real life.) It allows the author to place her characters in unusual situations where their basic natures are revealed without the skewing that experience creates. And, of course, the most popular amnesiac is the one who has lived a life of privilege who must adopt to a very different world. That Mary Jo Putney has taken this old war horse of a plot and created an engaging and interesting romance speaks volumes about her skill as an author.
Loving a Lost Lord is the first installment in Putney's new series about a group of friends who, as children, were somehow misfits in the structured world of the British aristocracy. All found their way to a school run by Lady Agnes Westerfield. Lady Agnes, the daughter of a duke, was herself something of a misfit, refusing to settle for a ton marriage and instead traveling the world. Her school for troubled young men of good family came about when, one day, she encountered a young boy who had fled from his exasperated tutor and refused to come down from the tree he had climbed. On the spot, she discovered her life's work. She became an educator with a gift for taming troubled souls.
Her first pupil was Adam Darsham Lawford, the Duke of Ashton. The son of an East India Company official and a high-born local woman, he had been wrenched from his mother's arms when he unexpectedly became the seventh Duke of Ashton. Not surprisingly, he would not cooperate with his tutors or trustees. Lady Agnes was able to reach the home-sick ten year old and he became the first of many students whom she guided to adulthood.
The story begins when three of Adam's dear friends from the school arrive to tell Lady Agnes that he has been killed in a steamboat accident in Scotland. When she learns that no body has been found, she sends Randall, Kirkland and Masterson north to discover what has happened him and to, if possible, recover the duke's body.
Obviously, Adam is not dead or there would be no story. Instead, he survives the blast of his experimental steamboat and manages to stay afloat on a board as the currents pushes him southward to the shores of Cumbria. Miss Mariah Clarke rescues him from the sea and takes the wounded man to her home, Hartley Manor.
Mariah has only been at Hartley Manor for two months. Her father, a noted gamester, had won the property from one George Burke. He had left her there and gone off to London on some mission. Shortly before discovering Adam in the sea, Burke had arrived with the tragic information that her father has been murdered by highwaymen on his way to town. He provides as proof of this assertion her father's ring and a letter from his lawyer. Burke threatens a lawsuit to recover his property, which he claims he had lost due to Mariah's father's cheating. But he offers Mariah another option: she can marry him. A stunned Mariah, distraught at her loss and unsure about her position, rejects Burke's offer by claiming that she is already wed.
Thus, Adam's appearance seems providential. Indeed, Mariah had gone down to the beach that night after seeking advice by casting a spell (Putney has not completely abandoned her penchant for fantasy) and receiving instructions from her beloved Granny Rose. When Adam wakes and has no memory of who he is, Mariah cannot resist taking advantage of the situation and telling him that he is her husband. This proves a convenient charade for getting rid of Burke, but the complications are inevitable.
Putney handles these complications with a sure hand. She provides a reasonable motive for Mariah's not telling the truth when Burke leaves the scene. She shows how and why the two fall in love. She deals effectively with Adam's discovery of the lie and his reaction to the deception. She convincingly depicts both Adam's and Mariah's shock at finding out that he is the Duke of Ashton. She describes in a compelling fashion Adam's gradual recovery of himself and his renewed acceptance of all the parts that comprise his being. And she provides a most satisfactory romance between two people who have unexpectedly found each other but who may be forced apart by the realities of Adam's position and honor.
There is a secondary plot centering on the discovery that the explosion was no accident and the effort to discover why Adam has become a target of a murderer. There is also an intriguing cast of secondary characters who will undoubtedly each have his or her own romance. (Indeed, on a list recently, Putney reported that Randall's story will be published next spring and that she has at least eight other characters that she wants to write about.) But, while Putney provides enough information about these people to arouse the reader's curiosity, she does it with such a deft hand that she thereby adds to rather than detracts from this story. If there is a fairy-tale quality to some of the situations that bring about the happily-ever-after, well, this is a romance after all, and if an author can't make everything turn out perfectly in the end, who can?
Mary Jo Putney has long been one of my favorites. Her "Fallen Angels" series is, in my opinion, unrivaled as an example of telling the interrelated stories of a group of men who are bound together from early youth. I am delighted that she is returning to straight Regency romances and to this tried and true formula. I'm sure I am not the only reader who will be looking for Randall's story next May.