From the desk of Katie Patchell:
Unconventional heroines are becoming more common in Regency-inspired fiction, which is something worthy of applause. Perhaps this shouldn’t come as a surprise, given the genre’s beloved originator. Jane Austen was the queen of unconventional heroines living in a conventional world; something Elizabeth Bennet, Catherine Morland, and company attest to. But I ask: how often do we Janeites discover an equally unconventional hero? Josi S. Kilpack shares just that in Love and Lavender, her recent addition to the Mayfield Family saga. Both a unique romance and a sympathetic study of physical limitations in the Regency world, Love and Lavender shines a spotlight on two very unconventional leads.
After her uncle makes the shocking announcement that he will give each of his young relatives an inheritance if they marry, Hazel Stillman doesn’t feel grateful. No—she feels hurt and betrayed. To Hazel, Uncle Elliott’s inheritance isn’t a gift: it’s proof that her family still thinks marriage is more important than her calling to teach advanced mathematics to women. Hazel resolves to ignore this strange bribe for matrimony, even if the fifty thousand pounds she would gain on marriage would purchase her independence.
He found it easier to look at her eyes than with most other people; maybe because her eyes were hazel just like her name and he liked the symmetry of those facts. (51)
In comparison, Duncan Penhale views his uncle’s offer with perfect equanimity. Mocked since childhood for his extreme focus, love of routines, and inability to intuitively know social cues, Duncan feels no illusion as to his lack of acceptance in society (other than that of his beloved cat, of course). When he meets his so-called cousin, Hazel, Duncan is glad to become friends with someone who also loves intricate puzzles, and who isn’t offended by his blunt conversation.
Focus was essential, and she would not allow herself to be distracted. “You would give me full discretion over my dowry?”
“It was bestowed upon you just as the Burrow Building was bestowed upon me. You deserve to have full control of it. You could buy your school.”
The air in the room froze, and Hazel blinked at him. “Buy Cordon Academy?”
“You said in your letter dated August fifth that the current owner of Cordon Academy was looking to sell. She should sell it to you, and you should continue to offer the advanced classes that girls deserve access to the same as boys—it is what you have explained is your wish and desire. You can then make any changes you feel appropriate to the curriculum and run the school yourself.”
Hazel opened her mouth but could find no words. (61)
After their precious livelihoods are threatened, Duncan proposes a solution to Hazel: that they marry in name only to each win their inheritance. She accepts, but Uncle Elliott demands a compromise. If they plan on purposefully misinterpreting his “romantic” scheme for their happily ever after’s, then Hazel and Duncan must live in the same home, sharing space and conversation, for exactly one year of marriage. As the clock ticks on, Hazel fears their growing emotional intimacy and shared love of learning will cross her own line—that of physical intimacy. At whatever cost, she refuses to let him see her twisted foot, or to risk her future independence because of something as uncertain as love.
Glass was made of nothing but sand. Stained glass, as she understood it, was colored by adding different minerals to the sand before the heating process that liquified the elements, allowing them to be shaped and formed. Chemistry. Focus. Creation.
She was so engrossed in the details of the window that she startled when Duncan appeared in front of her. He put out his hand, and she looked at it–the hand of the man who was soon to be her husband. Her gaze traveled up to his face. Were they doing the right thing? Would the sand and minerals of their lives melt down properly to form something useful to them both? (124)
Occasionally, I ask myself the age-old bibliophile question: What turns a work of fiction into a work of literature? Is it because it’s merely old, with enough readers putting it on their shelves over the centuries? Is it because the book doesn’t solely entertain, but also makes one feel unsettled and provoked? Please do share your thoughts in the comments! For myself, I’m still unable to define it precisely (a phrase Duncan would appreciate). Yet I do believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that Love and Lavender is a work of literature. The story of Hazel and Duncan separately would make this a beautiful, surprising tale, but their combined story makes this novel a powerful and thought-provoking work as well.
“Mr. Marcum says I have a brilliant mind, but Mr. Sopledge, my literature teacher at Resins, said my brain was broken.”
“It is not broken.” Hazel was offended on his behalf, yet he shared the information without the least bit of malice.
“It is broken,” Duncan said evenly. “I am intelligent and capable in many ways, but in other ways I do not understand what everyone else seems to already know.” (185)
Duncan and Hazel’s struggles to overcome and accept their limitations were heightened because of the period in which this book is set. In 2021, Duncan would likely be diagnosed as autistic. Hazel, with her crippled foot and her passion for the equal education of women, would assimilate into the 21st century easier than in the 1800s, but she might still be put in a box and underestimated. Kilpack writes on these perceived disabilities and often-unfair labels with honesty yet never-failing kindness. It’s clear that she loves her characters (as, strangely, not all authors do), and I quickly followed suit.
Love and Lavender deserves every one of its five stars, and if there was a higher amount to give, I would give a constellation. With the confident skill of a consummate artist, Kilpack deftly and truthfully sketches a world in which shadows exist; but so too does glimmering hope, growing stronger like the rising sun. Pick up this book—on your e-reader or in physical form. I suspect that not one of us will finish this read unchanged.
5 out of 5 Stars
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Love and Lavender: A Mayfield Family Romance (Book 4), by Josi S. Kilpack
Shadow Mountain Publishing (November 2, 2021)
Trade paperback, eBook, & audiobook (320) pages
We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Austenprose.com is an Amazon.com affiliate. We receive a modest remuneration when readers use our links and make a purchase.
Cover image courtesy of Shadow Mountain Publishing © 2021; text Katie Patchell © 2021, Austenprose.com