Loving Protector (by Sally Quilford)

I have already enjoyed four novellas by Sally Quilford on my Kindle, so was delighted when she offered another one free for a couple of days in December. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect as this is not her usual genre. I'm a great fan of the Regency romance genre as epitomised by Georgette Heyer, but tend to find other authors rather lacking in authenticity.

Moreover, reviews of 'Loving Protector' were very mixed on the US Amazon site. So it was with some trepidation that I began reading - only to find myself drawn into the story almost immediately.

Calista Haywood is the heroine. We meet her en route to London with her widowed stepmother, and her step-sister Blanche. Blanche is outspoken and selfish, which contrasts strongly with Calista’s more generous, sweet nature. Blanche hopes to find a rich husband, preferably with a title, and can't understand why Calista had to come with them at all.

There’s high drama right at the start of the book, and the hero introduced in literal heroic mode. Clearly he and Calista are going to end up together. However, this story doesn’t just follow the standard Regency romance formula: there’s some mystery surrounding Blanche’s birth which is only gradually revealed, and also we overhear some violent threats, which appear to be followed up later on...

Sally Quilford has done her research well; I think some of the negative reviews were from readers who were not accustomed to the genre, or who objected to British spelling. While this book does not have quite the naturally flowing authenticity of Georgette Heyer, it reads realistically, on the whole, with few - if any - anachronisms. It was certainly much better written than several other books I have read in this genre in recent years.

More significantly, the characters of Calista and Blanche are very nicely drawn, as is that of Evelyn, Blanche’s mother. I was a little puzzled as to how such a likeable, gentle mother could have raised such an unpleasant daughter, but liked the contrast with the 'Cinderella' theme: the stepsister is considered a great beauty, and the stepmother is very fond of the heroine.

My biggest problem with this book is that it’s too short. There were, I felt, sufficient subplots and themes to have made this a full-length novel; as it was, some plot threads are resolved far too quickly, and in the later part of the book, when Calista takes centre stage, Blanche almost vanishes from the scene - we only learn in passing what she has been doing. I would love to have read more about her and her reactions to Calista's engagement.

My other slight problem is that I began to find Calista a bit irritating after a while; she gets it into her head that the hero does not love her, despite every effort on his behalf to show that he does. She is supposed to be intelligent, and she appears to be quite empathic where her stepmother and aunt are concerned; she even seems to understand Blanche quite well. But she apparently has a total blind spot as far as the hero is concerned, and spends a lot of time introspecting about how unhappy she is. It didn’t ring true; but perhaps this is related, also to the length. Had the novel been longer, there could have been incidents that drew them apart for a while, or genuine misunderstandings that could have made her conviction more believable.

Still, overall I thought it a pleasant light read, and look forward to more in this genre.

Only currently available in Kindle form, although it should soon be available as a large print hardback.

Review by Sue F copyright 2014 Sue's Book Reviews

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