22 August, 2010
Review: The Sergeant's Lady by Susanna Fraser
Let's be honest. I bring some preconceived notions to The Sergeant's Lady. This is my first Carina Press book. My past experience with straight-to-digital publishing has been bleak. My opinion of Angela James is fairly high. I had serious issues with Susanna Fraser's website (I won't link it, if she's changed it that won't make sense, if she hasn't I'm doing her no favors) but I have complete sympathy for her excitement in her new career being stomped on by both the website and one Miles Hood Swarthout. (He thinks he's famous enough that his readers will buy her book by mistake. I could go on about the umbrage over originality from an author who apparently makes his living adapting his father's prior works but I... won't. Just in case you were confused, this one isn't a western.) Finally, while I adore Regencyland war tales I also grow impatient with books that gloss over social differences. (I feel rather sorry for The Sergeant's Lady. It's probably wondering why I cracked it's cover at all.)
All of that baggage out of the way, I quite liked The Sergeant's Lady. Since Signet killed off it's monthly regency imprint (let me pause to pour a bit of ratafia on the ground) there hasn't been a great source of short form regency novels. While authors like Carla Kelly have found new homes at Harlequin Historicals, it's still a niche market. Add the less popular war setting, and you're almost sunk for publication. There's a pretty big gap between "Across a crowded ballroom, amidst the silks and satins, two beautiful people of unmeasured wealth began a dance of desire!" and "While the stench of amputated flesh rose about them, two tired and filthy souls clung together against the certainty of death!" (Wait, I'm doing it again, aren't I?) ANYway - this book has a serious body count, which you'd expect from a novel that wraps it's war up at Badajoz. It's also a light and delicate romance that combines familiar elements (doesn't everyone have a first husband who uses 'whore' as a pet name?) with unfamiliar realities (children following the drum) into an engaging tale. The social difference between Anna and Will isn't brushed aside nor miraculously solved. While I think the actual resolution of that difference might have had a bit more resistance than it finds here, it's a plausible enough solution free of implausible interventions. Anna is often a bit too intrepid but Will provides a good counterpoint as a man unsure of his place in her world but unable to easily leave it. Rather like Will, after reading The Sergeant's Lady I wanted to search the storage bay for my favorite half remembered Signet war regencies.
While it wasn't a perfect read for me, Susanna Fraser overcame a mountain of baggage to deliver an entertaining book that made me open to trying her next one. At the same time, Carina Press proved themselves to be a 'real' publisher worth my cash money. I've got to give some credit to their art department as well - ebook covers that don't look like ten minute photoshop afterthoughts? I'm all for that.