Lady Laura Taunton is, like the rest of her sisters, the illegitimate child of Lord Radcliffe. All the girls were placed in a girls' school until they were old enough to be removed and handed over to a crony of their father's in order to pay off gambling debts. Laura was married off to an old man, desperate for an heir and abusive of Laura when she failed to provide him with one. She wound up nursing him for several years after he had a stroke and now he has, thankfully and finally, died. Free at last, Laura visits her sister Nana (from Marrying the Captain) where she meets Philemon Brittle, a Naval Hospital surgeon.
It is practically love at first sight for Laura and Philemon and they quickly become involved in each other's lives. Laura, who almost against her will has extensive nursing skill, is a natural to help Philemon in his work at the hospital. The trials each faces there, and the impact they have on the lives of the injured sailors makes for fascinating reading. It can also be difficult reading, as the injuries and treatments can be somewhat vivid. Kelly doesn't pretty up the Regency for her readers, and the immediacy of the danger and horror makes the love story all the more remarkable and moving.
As is usual in Kelly's books, her characters don't have histrionic declarations of love, but love is demonstrated in the easy touch of a hand, the casual intimacy of a first name, the companionship of conversation. These scenes are so simply done, but have great impact. The conflict between them arises mostly from Laura's sense of self. She has been so beaten down by her father and husband, that her self-esteem is zero. It is through Philemon's love and Laura's work with the wounded that she begins to regain herself, but it is a long haul for her to believe she is a worthy person.
There is an earthiness to Kelly's writing that is different from any other Regency romance writer. Her voice is unique and one that is very needed in the genre. If you have not yet discovered Carla Kelly, what are you waiting for? You are in for a treat with The Surgeon's Lady.
Reviewed by Cheryl Sneed, July 10, 2009