Prospero's Daughter by Nancy Butler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I had never read Nancy Butler before this book, although she is quite well-loved in traditional regency reading circles. I can see why she is admired. The stories of people who have suffered grievously both physically and mentally never fail to touch me when written well. This is one of those books.
Initially I didn't think I would care for Morgan Pearce. He is upset because he'll have to put off his affair with a very married woman and leave London for the country, out of a debt to a friend who supposedly saved his life on the battlefield. I was thinking, how honorable is that to be having an affair with a married woman? This is one of those books where you need to keep reading and put your robe and gavel away. For soon, it is clear that Morgan has many times more honor than most men.
He goes up to his friend's family home to help his friend's retired General father write his memoirs. At first he is quite impressed with the family of his friends, the Palfreys. They are very friendly, have a beautiful and perfect home, and seem to be a warm, affectionate family. Even helping with the memoirs of General Palfrey is going well. Then one day his eyes lay on a very sad figure out in the garden. A thin, broken woman who is clothed head to toe in heavy wool, and abandoned in a Bath chair.
Morgan can't look away. Having fought in the army for years, he has seen his share of wounded soldiers, and his best friend lost a leg in the war, and has yet to recover emotionally or physically. He knows he has to help her. This is not one of those love at first sight books. Miranda is a shadow of her former self. She is very debilitated from barely eating,and her muscles are atrophied from disuse. Not only that, her face has been slightly disfigured on one side, with scarring and flattening of her cheekbone. Morgan doesn't see her as the monstrous figure that she believes herself to be, or her neglectful cousin and his family have deemed her to be. He sees a woman that he can help to recover (and he feels the desire to do so because of what his own friend has been going through) and go on to lead a productive life. It becomes his mission to do so.
As this book progresses, we see Morgan pushing and goading Miranda on to care about herself and to want to get better. Initially Morgan uses the tools of somewhat harsh words and saying things designed to get a woman's goat. It works, as Miranda is so angry she is empowered to fight back, to push this meddlesome do-gooder away. Gradually a strong chemistry develops between the couple. Morgan sees the attractive woman that Miranda is despite her infirmitites. He admires her spirit and intelligence, and her beautiful blue-grey eyes that sparkle with anger towards him. Miranda falls in love with the man who has pushed and prodded her to get better. She doesn't think anything can come of it, but she loves him anyway, and will enjoy the time they have together before he leaves to go back to his life as a publisher in London.
Prospero's Daughter succeeds in being a sweet but passionate romance at the same time. The action never goes past kisses, but you don't doubt the desire and longing that Morgan and Miranda feel for each other. Morgan was a very masculine, vital hero, but he was also a gentleman. Although he was not without his flaws, he was a really good person. Although he had an affair with a married woman and availed himself of courtesans and prostitutes in the past (two of my pet peeves in a hero), I couldn't hold that against him, because he really showed with a good person he was. He was honorable and kind, and he was the kind of person who did the right thing, even though it might cost him something. He was perfect for Miranda.
I loved Miranda as well. My heart was breaking for her. Not only had she lost her mother and father, she lost the dreams for a normal life and a future. She was not quite at the point of suicide in this book, but it was clear that fairly soon, she might consider taking that option. Miranda wasn't that kind of person who would give up easily and take that way out, but she was such a vital, strong-minded person, trapped in a feeble body, and treated like a burden and a monstrosity by her family, even though she had her own means and property. It must have been awful to be in her situation and to be so neglected and abandoned by those who were supposed to love her.
I was very glad that Morgan called her family on their selfishness and their shallow natures. It was awful that they lived in the same house with her, but never took the time to visit her, and reassure her. She lived a separate life, and wasn't even included in Christmas celebrations or dinner with the family. That kind of neglect was beyond criminal, and it probably added to Miranda's feelings of despair.
Miranda had a very wise thing to say to Morgan that he needed to hear. He had pretty much given up on helping his friend who had lost a leg in the war. She told him that he needed to tell his friend that he was okay the way he was, even if he never walked or got out of bed again. Morgan had to struggle with that, because he was used to feeling like he had to fight to be the best and to strive for excellence due to his troubled relationship with his father, who felt he married beneath him by marrying a daughter of a publishing family. His mind interpreted that as failure. But it turned out to be excellent advice that does help Morgan to accept Miranda as she is and not fixate on improving her if it's not meant to be, and he and his sister to deal with Phillip's condition. His sister Kitty is in love with Phillip but has finally given up and decided to marry another man. Miranda helps to get the two lovebirds back together, showing the intelligence and strength of will that she never really lost. It was just locked away in a feeble body and a heart starved for love and the acceptance of others.
This book really touched me and kept me reading. It is a wonderful story of how caring about someone enough to put oneself out there in the emotional danger zone, basically putting your money where your mouth is. Being a person of principles means nothing if actions don't back it up. Miranda's family thought they were good people, but it was clear that it was just a facade when it was really obvious how much they had neglected Miranda (despite having people to care for her most basic needs and nothing much above that). It's about doing the right thing, and reaching out to others in need, and how you will be blessed when you do take the time to open your heart and care for others. Morgan stepped up to the plate and discovered a treasure in Miranda, and a great love that will continue to reward him for the rest of his life.
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