Monday, June 13, 2016

Kindred Spirits by Allison Lane

Back in the Day Review

Published: 2002
Reading Mood:  Shadowed Characters w/ Familiar Formula 
Synopsis:  Colonel Jack Caldwell has worshiped honor since the day he was old enough to understand his family's legacy of cowardice, brutality, and cheating. As a result, his reputation for honesty, bravery, and compassion surpasses that of his peers. But thirty-two years of exemplary living disappear in the chaos of Waterloo, breaking him in body and spirit. Only a chance encounter with Marianne Barnett offers him the possibility of redemption. He saved her once before, but now she's in even greater peril as her guardian seeks to strip her of everything she holds dear. Can they defeat their demons and claim the love they deserve?

Be advised Back in the Day Reviews contain spoilers.  
Read at your own risk.

As the first e-book I owned, Kindred Spirits has a special place in my heart and so I indulged myself when writing this loooooong winded review.  Apologies in advance to those that prefer the 3-paragraph, X-number of stars review.  Sometimes, you just need to say more.....

Jack Caldwell was raised by two-legged wolves.  With the help of his tutor and mentor, Mr. Reeves, he worked hard to become a noble lion.  He wanted more for and of himself than the ancestral savoir-péchés.  Saying he was obsessed with his honor is an understatement.  There were times I wondered if Caldwell understood the word is a noun, not a verb; a label, not a state of being.

Everything was going well, until Waterloo.  Between his wounds and blanks in his memories that are filled by nightmares that feel real, he’s slipped in to an understandable depression.  True, he was a Colonel, a hero many times over, but everyone has a point that will splinter their ability to carry on business as usual.  He reached that point before the battle of Waterloo was ended.  From the beginning of the book, when he’s contemplating jumping off a cliff - literally - battle fatigue was the real issue.

Yes, Caldwell beat himself up sixteen ways to Thursday but it all boiled down to the fact that though his body healed, his mind and heart had barely begun to accept what happened before his eyes.  He felt as crazy as Marianne was supposed to be, but instead of confronting that feeling, he focused on his “bad blood” and “failing to be honorable.”  And though he can see the reasonable explanation for others, he won’t hear it for himself.  Truly, you want to smack him for being such a stubborn donkey!

Even as he admitted that he had no recollection of that day, he still insisted that his actions condemned him. Did he not know that humans were frail creatures who often made mistakes? Even if those images were as bad as he feared, he could forgive himself—if only he would try.”

Marianne understood the feelings and their effect on reasoning.  She was determined to keep him alive until he could remember there was more to honor than the label.  He challenged her to move beyond her own terrors; stood by her when she asked, stepped back when she needed.  Caldwell dismissed her attempts to reciprocate because he didn’t believe he deserved help.  And also, I think, because he was afraid to hope, and tired, so very, very tired.

When you look at combat veteran accounts this is not so odd, even the obsession with perfection and honor is almost stereotypical.  Those that survive war and find themselves blessed with peace often struggle more with the latter than the former.  Ms. Lane’s prose might *seem* to be angsty and repetitious, but I believe she perfectly caught the tone of someone still fighting and the only enemy left is themselves.  This did not make it easier to read but it kept me focused on the Kindred Spirits of the book.

Jack Caldwell isn’t my favorite romance novel hero but he is unforgettable as a rarity.  He struggled for almost the entire book, but never once lashed out at Marianne or others.  There were no vicious words he had to apologize for, no cruel actions, no easing his grief and anguish between her thighs, no forty-seven mistresses or whores he used, no ennui to overcome, no smug arrogance to despise … he simply did the best he was able to do every day, even when he thought it was pointless.

I long for more heroes like him in my reading diet.

Twelve years ago I met a woman and child trying to escape France. The woman was a French émigré who'd taken a position as a lady's maid. The child was her employer's twelve-year-old daughter—and the family's sole survivor."

“I presume you escorted them back to England."
Jack nodded. “I delivered the child to her uncle, Lord Barnett, took the maid to relatives, then went about my business. The next time I saw Marianne was a month ago. She owns the estate next to mine....Her nightmares had disturbed Barnett's family, and she apparently fell into hysteria whenever a stranger approached. To reestablish peace in his household, Barnett banished her to her own estate a month after her return, setting guards to prevent any callers."
“It is not unusual to put children in the care of a governess."
“True, but there was no governess, no nurse, no companion. As near as I can tell, her entire staff consists of a housekeeper and butler, now well past seventy, and a couple of elderly maids. She has been incarcerated there ever since."
“For twelve years?"

Marianne Barnett felt like Sleeping Beauty, trapped by her uncle’s edicts instead of thorns, but she had a ray of hope.  In another six weeks the trust that gave her uncle control of her life would end.  She’d be free, her life her own, finally.   So though she rambled the woods, cliffs and lakeside, and seldom spoke with anyone, she was not a defeated prisoner.  Neither had she spent the years sleeping.  She spent them filling her mind with knowledge and information she could barely wait to apply.

She’d learned to cope by avoiding the things that triggered memories and terrors rooted in the death of her family.  Being isolated, it wasn’t hard and though she prepared as if she could ready herself for confronting the world, her fears and estate management - there were still many doubts in her mind but nowhere to turn, except to her imaginary friends.  This makes her sound childish, or fey, but keeping in mind she’s been raising herself since she was twelve, I thought it was a pretty groovy coping mechanism.

Having no one with whom to converse, she had fallen into the habit of talking to people she had once known. Her favorite companion was Hutch, her old governess, but Jacques ran a close second. He was forever urging her to explore new horizons.”

Finding Jack Caldwell on the edge of the cliff drew Marianne out of her isolation.  It was a toe in the water really, until she realized the man that saved her life needed help.  Then, she waded in up to her neck without reservation.  Her focus on finding out why such a brave and courageous person would want to end his life and how to prevent such an unthinkable thing distracted her.  In this way, she dealt with her fears a little at a time, inch by inch, sometimes as an afterthought.  He was saving her again, even as she was saving him.  It wasn’t in her nature to barge in and take over.  She was more gentle than ferocious but just as determined as Caldwell when she set her mind to something.

So how could she help him when he lived in the world and she did not?

The answer was relatively easy.  They met at a folly between their adjoining properties and talked.  Walking the woods, circling the lake, sharing books and thoughts, she learned to express herself in reality instead of in imagination.  His physical wounds healed, her confidence grew, and they both skirted the questions they didn’t want to answer.  I especially loved the fact they took their time.  Caldwell remembered what it was to be a civilized man of peace.  Marianne learned real people required complete thoughts and didn't read her mind.  Their interest in each other grew, fascination and infatuation blossomed.

Marianne reasoned one of them would have to break the impasse regarding questions and so she did.  Telling him that her uncle thought her mad and why wasn’t easy, especially when he so completely believed otherwise.  Bravely, she told him the parts she remembered, the facts since she’d matured that seemed to prove the theory, even about Craven, her uncle’s secretary that terrified her.  Risking all, she told him what threat hung over her head and accounted for why she remained sequestered without challenge.

Never leave the park or speak to others, Marianne. If anyone discovers your infirmity, Lord Barnett will lock you in an asylum with the other lunatics.

When her uncle shows up to follow through on that threat, so he can claim her fortune to replace what he and his son have lost, Caldwell comprehends her situation more fully, and he fears, too late.  A daring rescue and desperate ride of twenty miles frees Marianne from the asylum, but not her uncle’s Fiendish Plot.  Fearing he might do something stupid without all the facts, Caldwell presses Marianne for the details of her family's murder - and they are truly horrible.  She’s too tired to recount the tragedy with glossed over details.  He’s heartbroken for her but able to listen and understand, even to reflect some hard earned lessons regarding the body and soul of lost comrades.  A lesson she reminds him of later....

One of the first lessons war teaches is to distinguish the man from the body. In life, they seem as one, but death divides them. The spirit leaves, no longer caring what befalls its former home, for the vacant body is of no more importance than a broken wheel or shattered sword. When the battle is finished, we bury the shell in memory of the man who once inhabited it, but the depredations of war cannot harm the spirit. The same is true of your family.

Caldwell’s ruthless tenderness has stuck with me over the years, as has Marianne’s willingness to accept assistance even when afraid to do so.  She doubted her strength but he didn’t; he doubted his honor but she didn’t, they needed each other to heal but also to find their own strengths were more than expected.  Observing how they shared themselves, gently and completely, flaws and all is what made this a book for my keeper list.

Offered a challenge by Caldwell and sanctuary by Lord and Lady Blackthorn, Marianne begins to find her balance in a world full of triggers, unknowns and with the specter of involuntary commitment hovering over her.  Not only was society always ready to pounce on the least weakness, but Wicked Uncle has set legal petitions in motion and there is little time to avert them.  This is why Caldwell proposes marriage.

Marriage will terminate his guardianship, removing the legal standing he now enjoys. Chancery will throw out his petition because he is no longer an interested party. If he wishes to continue the battle, he can file for an annulment on grounds of insanity, but that case would go to the ecclesiastical court. It will take more than claims of hysteria to prove madness there. The bishop favors unions. And he does not move quickly, which gives us time."

In most formula romances this is where the Real Trouble begins.  Ms. Lane tips that truth on it's ass-end while toeing the line.  Marianne has conditions to be met before she will agree to marriage [how I admired that!]  Caldwell still intends to atone for his perceived failures with his life.  She knows this and not only confronts him with her insight but demands a promise that he won't stage another accident. His agreement did not ease her mind but it prevented her from being carted away and unable to do him, or herself, any good.  And, it continued to keep him from being swallowed by his deepening depression.

That she makes this demand completely in character and as a woman of her era without resorting to seduction, profanity or kicking his butt to demonstrate how ah-maz-ing she is, still makes me smile, and nod and always miss the women in life that understand the subtle hand of power we possess.  And yes, she frets the melancholia will leave him and he'll resent being burdened with her but this is balanced by the fact he first has to live long enough to find peace is more than a word, honor more than an obsession.  Marianne is amazing but it is her tenacious determination tempered by her years spent alone.  She did not waste those years, she used them to feed something other than bitterness and self-pity.

As they negotiate their marriage and navigate those first days with the eyes of society upon them, you truly observe the Kindred Spirits that they are.  Shattered trust connects them; Marianne's in the world, Caldwell's in himself.  They remain kindred even as the pieces are put back together, as uncle and his plot are confronted, as society looks on, as the moment of crisis for Caldwell comes, and Marianne confronts another terror to be sure the crisis passes, once and for all.

Marianne declares:  “In the end, we are what we make of ourselves." And she’s right.

The secondary characters are on the two dimensional side but not quite cut outs.  I enjoyed them but my investment was extremely focused on Caldwell and Marianne.  I believe that was Ms. Lane's intention. True, the villains are way over the top, black and white caricatures, but part of that is the perception of the other characters since their contact with the villains is almost non-existent. The modern reader has grown accustom to "sympathetic villains" that become the heroes and heroines of the sequels.  So I think the stark, you can't even doubt this person is a baaaad guy/gal jars us a bit.  Sometimes I want a bit of black & white.  Life isn't like that but for the span of a book ... yeah, childish I know.

The writing and pacing is perfect for me, every single time I read it.  The dialog keeps me in the story and I like how characters from other books show up but don't steal the show.  There was an awakening sensual tension in the book. I really think physical intimacy between Caldwell and Marianne in this story would have ruined it for me.  They both had so many other things to deal with first.  Doing so made them More, not less, Real for me.  There is no hideous epilogue insisting the author's version of happily ever after must reach to the next life.  No loose ends were left dangling and a few of them were tied up a bit too neatly for my taste.  This is a hand wave for me when I'm gifted with respect enough to envision happily ever after for beloved characters.

This book is a stand alone with mention of characters from:

The Prodigal Daughter - 1996
The Unscrupulous Uncle - 1997
Devall's Angel - 1998

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