Serena by Sylvia Andrew
(Harlequin, $4.50, G) ISBN 0-373-51116-7
****
Sometimes the “big misunderstanding” works, as it does in Serena, one of Harlequin’s welcome contributions to reviving the Regency. (See the Marshall review for more details.) The misunderstanding in this book is a whopper, but the author succeeds in convincing the reader that it all makes sense, that Lord Wintersett has good reason to believe that Serena Calvert was responsible for his beloved brother’s death fourteen years earlier.

Serena (or Sasha as she is known to her family) Calvert has inherited her family’s plantation on the West Indian island of St. Just. She has worked hard to restore its prosperity and though Anse Chatelet is still mortgaged, thanks to her father’s and brother’s extravagance, she has made real progress. Now, she wants to send her niece Lucy to London for a season, so that she can make a good marriage. But Serena’s aunt is not up to the rigors of a London season, so Serena has to accompany Lucy to England.

Serena and Lucy spend some time at her aunt’s country estate to learn how to behave properly for their presentation. One day, Serena escapes the confines of the house and, dressed as a boy, gallops over the downs. She meets Lord Wintersett, who has come to the country to visit his invalid mother and nephew and his sister-in-law. Lord Wintersett discovers her disguise and induces her to continue her rides. The two become friends with the possibility of something more once they meet in London. But neither knows the other’s true identity.

Lord Wintersett believes his sister-in-law’s tale, that her husband, seduced and abandoned by “Sasha” Calvert, committed suicide. He has spent the previous fourteen years systematically trying to ruin the Calvert family. He knows that “Sasha” Calvert is coming to England; he does not know that his Serena is the same woman. When he discovers the truth, he turns inexplicably cold and hostile. When she realizes that Tony Stannard was James’ brother, she comprehends his anger towards the Calverts. She does not know that she has been cast in the role of siren and seducer. Perhaps James realization of Serena’s youth at the time of the tragedy might have led him to question the story he has been told, but he misunderstands a conversation he overhears and believes that Serena has convicted herself by her own words.

I know that one of the frequent complaints about plots that depend on the “big misunderstanding” is that, if the parties just communicated with each other, the problem would be solved. While this may be the case in a contemporary story - after all, have we not made a god of good communication skills? - I think it is less likely to be the case in historicals. After all, people in the past operated in a world where reticence rather than “letting it all hang out” was the norm. So I do not have much trouble believing that James and Serena found it impossible to sit down and talk out their problems.

What makes the story interesting is James’ ambivalence and uncertainty. How can he reconcile the open and friendly Serena whom he had come to love with the evil “Sasha” whom he had hated for so long? That he comes to Serena’s rescue when she finds herself in difficulty suggests that he is not indifferent to her, that he is coming to question the tales he has been told about her past behavior.

Serena offers a lot to the Regency reader. Andrew clearly understands Regency society and portrays it very well. Her characters, both primary and secondary, are well drawn. She adds a nice element of danger and suspense to the mix. I hope Harlequin sends us more of her very well done Regency romances.

--Jean Mason


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