From the desk of Katie Patchell:
Last year I had the immense good fortune to review Love and Lavender by Josi S. Kilpack. Trusting the logo of Shadow Mountain Publishing–one of my favorite Regency publishers–I cracked open its pages, not knowing what to expect…and then discovered that I was reading a work of art. For months I waited for news about Josi S. Kilpack’s next novel, and it’s finally arrived! Without further ado, let me introduce you to The Valet’s Secret: a story with mistaken identities, passionate kisses, and–lest we forget–angrily lobbed walnuts.
Sailor, father, widower, and now the heir to an earldom, Kenneth Winterton wonders if he can be all of these things together without sacrificing pieces of his identity. Since his cousin’s untimely death, it is Kenneth’s duty to travel to Brenning Hall to be trained by the current lord, his well-meaning but stern Uncle Lester. Fortunately for Kenneth, he has his friend and fellow-soldier, Malcolm, at his side in the nominal role of valet. It is even more fortunate that they’re approximately the same size, a fact which gives Kenneth the freedom to move about the countryside disguised as an independent, untitled valet. It is on one of his madcap gallops away from the pressures of “earl school” that his life changes even more drastically. Almost running over a woman with captivating eyes–especially while giving him a piece of her mind–leads to his help in bandaging her scratches….and then a kiss as unexpected as it is moving. What is a soon-to-be-earl to do when faced with a choice between love and expectations?
“I did not kiss her as myself, of course, but rather as, well you.”
Malcolm blinked. “Me?”
“Well, your name, but the rest of it was all me and all her. Truly, Malcolm, it was a kiss for the ages.”
The corner of his own beaver-skin hat caught him just below his right eye. (Location 383)
Artist, mother, widow, and ex-servant, Rebecca Parker is mostly content with her life and the trajectory she expects it to follow: keeping house for her irascible artist-father by day, while doing the real work of his creations for his clients by night. Kenneth’s kiss ignites more than yearning. To dream of new possibilities was something Rebecca thought long left in the past, and the attraction and instant friendship with the new “valet” in town is an unlooked-for gift. Except…Kenneth isn’t the man Rebecca thinks he is. After she is hired as a servant at a dinner for the gentry, she discovers that he’s really the earl’s heir. Bound by their understanding over their shared life experiences and a chemistry they didn’t expect, Rebecca and Kenneth struggle to navigate a world of class boundaries, jealousy from the gentry, and their own presuppositions. What is a woman who doesn’t believe in fairytales to do when faced with her own chance at one?
“Women like us do not believe in fairy tales, Rebecca. But there are times when circumstances do not follow the prescribed course, when the lines that seem so very solid turn out to be little more than a mirage.” (Location 2439)
Woman, Daughter, Mother: Study of a Heroine
I remember the moment I realized my mother was a woman in her own right. It was somewhere in the upper teenager range, when the self-absorbed child is replaced by a person learning to navigate adulthood. It was a much-needed shock to see that the woman whose name was “Mom” had her own desires, fears, and hopes apart from mine. Perhaps this is why I resonated so strongly with The Valet’s Secret and the story of Rebecca and Kenneth, who have children in their late-teens/early-twenties. Rebecca was mature in wisdom as well as in years. Her pragmatism, hopefulness, and unswerving love for her daughter was truly remarkable to see. With so many romances set from the perspective of the daughter or son—typically products of an overbearing, absent, or conniving parent-–it was refreshing to have parents gain the spotlight.
“When she woke, the afternoon light had shifted and the heaviness in her chest was not so weighted. It was a good reminder that darkness never lasted forever. There was always light to be found.” (Location 1516)
Character and Plot Depth
There are some gritty plot points included in The Valet’s Secret, such as Rebecca’s abusive father. Her loving relationship with her daughter, Rose, provided a strong, redemptive contrast. Possibly the most moving element in this novel is that of Kenneth’s journey to own his mistakes. As seen in the synopsis, Kenneth kisses Rebecca (a stranger) and then proceeds to lie about his identity. After Rebecca discovers his real identity, it takes him a very long time to understand that their power dynamic is uneven, and his actions could be interpreted as that of a lord taking advantage of a servant. It’s a testament to Kilpack’s sensitive writing that she handles this dangerous topic well, helping readers navigate what could otherwise be murky waters. Kenneth and Rebecca’s romance was a beautiful journey, especially their realization that they each needed a true partner–body, mind, and soul.
The Valet’s Secret is more than a romance–although that’s a delightful element. This story is about the pricelessness of family, the magnetism of a “marriage of true minds,” and the perfection of embracing an imperfect life. I unreservedly recommend this latest addition to Shadow Mountain’s “Proper Romance” selection. But beware: once you begin to delve into Josi S. Kilpack’s canon, you’ll find more love, laughter, and reflection than can fit into just one rainy-day reading marathon.
5 out of 5 Stars
- The Valet’s Secret: Proper Romance Regency, by Josi S. Kilpack
- Shadow Mountain Publishing (March 8, 2022)
- Trade paperback, eBook, & audiobook (288) pages
- ISBN: 978-1629729893
- Genre: Regency Romance, Historical Romance
We received a review copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Austenprose is an Amazon affiliate. Cover image courtesy of Shadow Mountain Publishing © 2022; text Katie Patchell © 2022, austenprose.com.
Hello Dear Readers,
Have you read any other novels by Josi Kilpack? Her Mayfield Family series is very popular and has been favorably reviewed here on austenprose.com.
If you enjoy historical romance with witty dialogue, engaging plots, and endearing characters, Austenprose highly recommends them.
Drop us a line below and share your thoughts on this review and what you are currently reading! We would love to hear from you!
Laurel Ann Nattress, editor