The Soldier’s Rebel Lover is second in Marguerite Kaye’s post-Peninsular War “Comrades In Arms” series and, like the first, The Soldier’s Dark Secret, is as much about honour, loyalty, patriotism, and disillusionment as romantic love. Kaye’s historical veracity (Miss Bates holds it above the pragmatic notion of accuracy, library research and cue cards provide that) thematic richness, and exceptional prose make for histrom reading as fine as any a rom reader is likely to encounter. Kaye makes the characters’ feelings of disillusionment and questioning that come with the historical owl’s dusky flight come alive. Miss Bates elevates Kaye to her histrom favourites: Cecilia Grant, Rose Lerner, and Meredith Duran. She loved the first in Kaye’s series, but thinks the second even finer. At Wellington’s behest, Jack Trestain, Dark Secret‘s hero, appeals to his friend Major Finlay Urquhart to re-enter Spain, in disguise, and rescue/extract El Fantasma, the still-active Spanish partisan leader who helped defeat Napoleon’s army. Why? Because should El Fantasma be captured by the present repressive Spanish régime, he may reveal actions damaging to Wellington and England. Finlay, like Jack, is restless and purposeless now war is over. Finlay’s loyalty to his friend, and Jack’s to his country, as well as Finlay’s “unsettledness”, convince him to take the mission. Soon thereafter, Finlay enters Spain disguised as a wine merchant.
Finlay travels to Spain’s La Rioja region to meet with Xavier Romero, wine producer. His first night at Hermoso Romero, Xavier’s estate, Finlay comes face to face with Isabella, Xavier’s beautiful sister. Finlay and Isabella are stunned to realize they met late one night, two years ago, in a ditch, outside of San Sebastian. Finlay was the officer who found Isabella, the guerilla fighter, on reconnaissance for El Fantasma and the Spanish partisans fighting Napoleon’s army. They spent one glorious night sleeping in each others’ arms only to part, regretfully, the next morning. That breeches-clad Isabella of laughter and whispered confidences is exactly the person Finlay has come to Spain to find. She may lead him to El Fantasma and his mission’s successful completion. Thus begins a journey of intrigue and danger, taking Finlay and Isabella from the Romero wine estate to Spain’s northern coast and testing their loyalty to their countries and causes against growing friendship, attraction, and love. Miss Bates cannot discuss the plot further without risking major spoilers, but she wants to give you, dear reader, a sense of the sophistication and sensitivity with which this wonderful novel is executed.
Finlay and Isabella are honourable and idealistic. When Finlay returned from war, however, he noted how Britain’s veterans are ill-treated, ignored and, with their families, abandoned to live in want. This injustice leaves Finlay disillusioned, but not regretful. Napoleon needed to be defeated and he played his part in that defeat. Finlay is also willing to ensure that the sacrifices of his men, dead, or alive, not be foiled by El Fantasma’s present actions. Isabella, in turn, continues in her loyalties and activities for El Fantasma’s ideals, without thought of the risk to herself, or family. What happens when the damsel in distress doesn’t want, or need the handsome Scottish wine-merchant … shhh, knight-spy … to rescue her? What happens when the stalwart knight respects women, Isabella, too much to force her hand, when he gives her a choice?: ” … the thought of acting against her very decided wishes and taking matters into his own hands gave him pause.” Well, many disastrous events … but, Isabella is also given a chance to change, develop, and realize for herself the importance of retreat and rescue when the stakes are too great to continue the good fight. What this does for Kaye’s romance is make for great characterization: a hero who is brave and brawny, but also admirable, ethical, likeable; and a heroine who can admit when she’s wrong, when she needs help, when a stoic bearing-up is the best way to be.
Kaye’s depiction of the growing love between Finlay and Isabella, as they run from danger, is tender and touching. The conflict keeping them apart is based on principle, not external circumstance. Finlay and Isabella are principled characters, making loyalty, duty, and self-sacrifice uppermost in their lives … until love walks in and shakes things up. Nevertheless, it is because they are principled that their love is more convincing and beautiful. They bring all that honour and sacrifice from the public sphere to the private – and still manage to stay true to their principles. For both, it comes in the form of doubt about the value of sacrificing for a cause; here, for example, are Finlay’s thoughts on the campaigns he fought: “Nothing had really changed, despite all the sacrifice. Was this what he’d fought for?” Miss Bates loved how Kaye’s wonderful Finlay and Isabelle emerge from the fog of war, into the light of love, to realize the pity of war. They choose love because they’ve both known its opposite. At the romance genre’s core is the belief that commitment to love and fidelity is the most steadfast way we have to make the world a better place and as good to take our place in it as the public arena of war and politics. Miss Bates hopes she hasn’t rendered this novel too ponderous for you, dear reader. Finlay and Isabella also share witty exchanges and are sexy as heck. As a matter of fact, what Kaye can do with a Scotsman with hair the colour of autumn leaves and eyes like the sea, a Spanish beauty, and a printing press is really really hot! She’ll let you discover that wonderful scene for yourself. 😉 With Miss Austen, Miss Bates says that for Marguerite Kaye’s The Soldier’s Rebel Lover “there is no charm equal to tenderness of heart,” Emma.
Marguerite Kaye’s The Soldier’s Rebel Lover is published by Harlequin (Harlequin Historical line). It was released on Sept. 15 and is available for purchase at your preferred vendors. Please note that Miss Bates received an e-ARC from Harlequin, via Netgalley.