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REVIEW: Never a Mistress, No Longer a Maid by Maureen Driscoll

Dear Ms. Driscoll:

When you sent me your book back in June, it was one of the better pitches I had received for a book review.  When I started reading it, however, I had some real concerns.  I want to point out in the beginning of this review that I am no historian.  What I know about the regency period, I’ve gleaned from books, message boards, and the random interesting article to which I’ve been directed.  Thus, when I read a book set in the Regency period and it dings my weak history meter, I’ve got to wonder what kind of research went into the creation of the text.

 Never a Mistress, No Longer a Maid by Maureen DriscollThe prologue opens with the heroine and hero in 1815 Belgium.  The hero is in pain but alive which is more than he can say for the French soldier lying dead next to him.  Ned Kellington is an English spy who was riding from the British line when he encountered a French soldier.  They fought and Ned won although he received a bullet in his thigh for his methods.

Our heroine is Jane Wetherby, the granddaughter of the Earl of  Huntington, who has followed her passion to Belgium to be involved in medicine.  Specifically, she is serving as a nurse.  For some reason, Jane is walking across the countryside from nursing men on the Western front to move to the main lines “in preparation for what she was told  would be the defining battle of the war.”  Jane is set upon by two other French brigands. Jane and I know they are French because of the French phrases they use (albeit incorrectly):  ”‘This one has some life to her, n’est pas?’ said the other soldier with a leer on his face.”

What is Jane doing walking alone (even dressed like a boy) along some river in Belgium? There are no other nurses, doctors, anyone that she could travel with? She is the ONLY one who wants to remove herself from the Western front to the main lines?  Further, what is she doing by herself anyway?  What English miss from a good family wanders about anywhere by herself?

But if Ned and Jane[fn1] aren’t alone, then Jane can’t proceed to a) dig out the bullet in Ned’s thing, b) nurse him through a 12 hour fever, and then c) lose her virginity and become impregnated by him in less than 24 hours.  Why Jane would choose to give her virginity to some soldier that she met on a river bank in Belgium isn’t explored.  If she had so little care for her virtue, wouldn’t she had given it over to a medical professional, as her love for medicine is why she abandoned her grandparents to come and nurse the wounded? But why should  common sense and historical conventions be observed when you need the couple to copulate in the prologue?

Fast forward seven years.  Ned and Jane reunite when Ned travels to her village, Marston Vale in Bedfordshire.  Ned has orders from his brother, the Duke of Lynwood, to sort out an understanding that Ned’s father had arranged with the father of Madeleine Merriman, the eldest daughter of the Viscount Barrington.  Miss Merriman lives in the same village as Jane.

The characters are very cliched.  Jane is preyed upon a by an unsavory character to whom she owes a debt, a debt incurred in order to buy medicine for her village.  Miss Merriman is a shrill, grasping creature who plots to be caught in a scandalous situation to bring Ned up to scratch.  Jane is a Disney (TM) heroine whom every one loves, including the forest creatures, except, of course for the evil ones in the neighborhood (aka Merriman and her mother).

When Ned and Jane find each other again, Ned discovers that Jane has a daughter whom Ned recognizes as his progeny.  He gets over his anger at her lies and deceit fairly quickly and determines to marry her, but Jane refuses.  At this point, I am just shaking my head at the nonsense.

Jane has a daughter who is an illegitimate bastard.  Jane has been cast out by her grandparents and she lives in a ramshackle farmhouse bequeathed to her by her parents.  Jane can barely afford to provide even the most basic necessities of life for her and her child.  Further, there is no chance that her child will have any decent life when she grows older because the daughter is a bastard.  Does Jane look upon Ned’s offer with favor? Of course not! She does not want to marry Ned.  She is not going to marry someone who does not love her.  Her principles are more important than food, clothing and shelter for herself and her child!  Please.  This is a ridiculous setup.  Who cares what the stupid git’s principles are?

Jane’s fortunate, though, because in the book everyone loves her in the village because of her surgical skills.  She knows all about the “spirits of disease” (a phrase used 9 times in the text) and her facility with wielding the antisceptic known as Scotch brandy has increased her rates of survival.  The villagers embrace of her is nice but not terribly realistic.  The mark of having a child out of wedlock doesn’t seem to weigh heavily upon Jane’s shoulders.  Even her arch nemesis, Miss Merriman, speaks to her albeit in a catty manner.

When Ned and Jane reenter society, the social repercussions of Jane and Ned’s indiscretion become a source of conflict as do some other nefarious characters.  Ned is pretty stalwart the entire book. He cares for Jane and wants Jane is his life. Jane is beset by insecurities and principles (where were they when she was giving away her virginity to some stranger in Belgium?) and is often shown to be a poor judge of character when she often trusts random people ahead of those that are close to her.  But alas, how else will we have agnst and drama?  Ned’s eldest brother and sister also start their own romances in this story which I presume to be sequel bait for subsequent stories.

The unique parts of the book such as Jane as a surgeon or Ned being uncaring about society’s constraints weren’t integrated into the plot sufficiently.  Like the historical trappings, those details served as superficial gloss and didn’t affect Jane or Ned’s make up.  These characters could have been unique, their mindsets, their character, could have read fresh and different but there was too great a reliance on well trod tropes and archetypes.  Ned and Jane were like paper dolls. I could have placed them in another background with different clothes and the story would have read the same.

The best thing to say about this book is that there are dozens of Regency books with the same level of historical accuracy and cliched characters being published by the Big 6.  There wasn’t anything fresh, new or invigorating about this story.  It read slow for me and it was a task to finish; however, it wasn’t because the product itself was substandard it is just that this story has been written before–many, many times before.  C-

Best regards,

Jane

Goodreads | Amazon |  nook

FN1: Ned and Jane! I know, I wished it was more awesome just because of that!

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

16 Comments

  1. Lynn S.
    Aug 20, 2011 @ 13:34:26

    Sequel baiting with two characters and also setting the stage for romances in both cases. Why? It’s usually better to highlight and give depth to your main story than throw glitter over the whole thing.

    Someone needs to get on a worthy Ned and Jane romance. Stat!

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  2. Bren
    Aug 20, 2011 @ 14:46:31

    “What English miss from a good family wanders about anywhere by herself?”

    Elizabeth Bennet often does in Pride and Prejudice. This is one common portrayal in modern Regencies that I don’t get: that a respectable woman could not go anywhere alone without her hand-wringing chaperone hovering nearby.

    This is not to say that I don’t have any problems with any of the rest of that plot described–nor does it explain why she would be wandering like this down a country road in the middle of a war zone.

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  3. Ridley
    Aug 20, 2011 @ 15:10:34

    Wasn’t P&P late Georgian, though? My understanding is that women were a bit freer to roam alone then.

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  4. Liz Mc
    Aug 20, 2011 @ 15:51:41

    My impression (which I admit comes more from Heyer than history) is that where you were mattered: it’s one thing to walk alone in the country, another in town. A war zone??

    Also, I think class/income would make a difference. When Elizabeth walks alone to Netherfield to see Jane, Miss Bingley remarks to Mr. Darcy that he wouldn’t want his sister to do that, and he agrees. But Elizabeth wouldn’t have had her own maid to go with her.

    The idea of women, especially of this class, being battlefield nurses (unless they were married to soldiers–but again, mostly not of this class) is one I associate with Clara Barton and Florence Nightingale, and seems off for this period. But I could be wrong on that.

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  5. Chelsea
    Aug 20, 2011 @ 15:57:29

    “She knows all about the “spirits of disease” (a phrase used 9 times in the text) and her facility with wielding the antisceptic known as Scotch brandy has increased her rates of survival.”

    Wait…that just can’t be realistic. Germ theory of disease didn’t come along until like 1840ish, and even then wasn’t widely accepted among the common population. And I remember a story about Semmelweis, a doctor who was essentially shunned because he suggested that doctors ought to wash their hands before helping women give birth. That was in the later 1800s. Disease and how to kill/keep it from spreading would NOT have been very widely understood in the time period of this book (if understood AT ALL).

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  6. Lynne Connolly
    Aug 20, 2011 @ 16:00:50

    It depended where. Young, respectable women alone in London were asking to be robbed. Young, respectable women alone at a ball needed a chaperone. A young woman walking in the country, especially in a familiar place, where she could meet friends, was reasonably okay. Plus, Lizzie Bennett wasn’t high society. She was upper middle, and there was a chasm of difference between the two. Lizzie’s class provided merchants’ wives, vicar’s wives, squire’s wives, and were usually based locally.
    My problem with the book as described is that the heroine is a nurse. Nurses were drunken, far from respectable women, and the only nurses in the army at this period were camp followers. Until Florence Nightingale tried to reform the nursing profession, Sarah Gamp was closer to the truth than a sweet young thing of good family. Dressed as a man, she’s asking for trouble. Even drawers were considered scandalously rude, which was why they weren’t accepted until later.

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  7. Klio
    Aug 20, 2011 @ 16:46:31

    @Lynne Connolly: Thanks to your reference to Sarah Gamp, I ended up looking up Angela Burdett-Coutts, who apparently told Charles Dickens about a real-life dreadful nurse that inspired the character. What a fascinating person! I’d love to read a novel about her (maybe more so than a biography).

    These days I feel an urge to add steampunk to everything…

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  8. Gwen Hayes
    Aug 20, 2011 @ 21:31:28

    I was stumped as to how they had sex the same night that she took a bullet out of his thing. Then I realized that Jane probably wouldn’t refer to the hero’s penis as his “thing” and I laughed and laughed. Seriously, best typo ever.

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  9. SHZ
    Aug 20, 2011 @ 22:01:46

    I can’t get past the hero’s name. Ned Kelly is Australia’s folk icon. Heath Ledger and Orlando Bloom starred in a movie about him. He’s our most infamous outlaw.

    I couldn’t read a book with a hero with practically the same name.

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  10. Nadia Lee
    Aug 20, 2011 @ 23:01:46

    I remember this book because of the cover, which I thought looked nice. But it has a few tropes that do not work for me (I’m gonna starve myself plus those who depend on me for some nebulous concept of love, etc.).

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  11. DS
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 10:57:44

    Even if the bullet was in his thigh rather than his thing, I’m not sure how interested in sex he would be. Remember the bullets were round, made of lead which could and often did deform on contact with the body, and could put quite a hole in flesh, It also brought into the wound bits of cloth and other debris it passed through. Removing the bullet and debris would require quite a bit of poking around on the part of the surgeon which I guess was also the heroine.

    I’ve also never heard of scotch brandy. If she is all that poor I’m not sure how she could afford either scotch or brandy for medical purposes.

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  12. Joan/SarahF
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 11:42:28

    Another nitpick: for Waterloo (if that’s what we’re talking about), I don’t think there was a “Western Front” to speak of. There were skirmishes prior to Waterloo and then Waterloo, but no other front, per se. Maybe?

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  13. Kate Hewitt
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 13:35:45

    @Chelsea:

    I think you’re right in terms of wide acceptance in the medical community, but I have read in other sources that practices in the army and on the battlefield were different, and they sometimes used things (like brandy for sterilization or ice to staunch bleeding) without actually understanding why.

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  14. Susanna Fraser
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 16:53:02

    Joan/Sarah–I’ve never heard of a “Western Front” in reference to the Waterloo campaign, either. Cliff Notes version is that the French crossed into Belgium on June 15 and fought two battles on the 16th–Napoleon vs. Blucher’s Prussians at Ligny and Ney vs. the Anglo-Dutch army under Wellington at Quatre Bras. Wellington’s army held their position, but the Prussians were defeated and forced to retreat, which in turn forced Wellington to withdraw to the Waterloo position in order to keep the lines of communication/support open with the Prussians. So the 17th was mostly troop movements, with a little rearguard-vanguard skirmishing. Then the 18th was, of course, the Battle of Waterloo itself.

    To me “Western Front” sounds more like 1915 than 1815, but it’s certainly possible there are sources that use the terminology differently than what I’m accustomed to.

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  15. Chelsea
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 19:20:53

    @Kate Hewitt:

    I guess I can accept that. I’m no historian, just a biologist. It still don’t see the common folk accepting a random woman’s healing expertise, but oh well.

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  16. Isobel Carr
    Aug 22, 2011 @ 10:03:41

    @Bren: It’s one thing to walk from home to the village or to a neighbor’s house. It’s something else to traipse across a warzone in the same manner.

    ReplyReply

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