Lord Caldwell & the Cat

Miss Chambers Takes Charge

 
The Wishing Well:
Catherineís Wish
by Joy Reed
(Zebra Ballad, $5.50, PG-13) ISBN: 0-8217-6645-7
***
Joy Reedís new Regency historical is the first of a trilogy centered on a famous wishing well in the village of Langton Abbots. Legend has it that if a young woman looks into the well before dawn on Midsummerís Eve, she will see her future in the water. Catherine Summerfield decides to see if the legend is true. Her past has not been particularly happy and it would be nice to discover that she has a promising future.

Orphaned at thirteen, Catherine was sent by her stern Aunt Violet to Miss Sadlerís School for Young Ladies. Dreadfully unhappy in this cold, unfriendly place, the sixteen-year-old girl fell prey to the charm of the young Italian dancing master and eloped. Discovered too late by her aunts to preserve her virtue, Catherine returned to Langton Abbots with her sweet Aunt Rose, Violet having washed her hands of her ungrateful niece. Catherine has lived for nine years with the censure of many of the villageís respectable women. Her position improved markedly when the Earl of Lindsay leased Honeywell House. His daughter, Lady Laura, befriends Catherine, thus improving her social position.

The Lindsays are not the only new arrivals in the village. Lord Meredith has returned home after years traveling in India, China, and Japan. He had been sent abroad by his disapproving father after one scandal too many. Now, he has decided to settle down and become a respectable landowner. He has been courting the lovely, sweet Lady Laura; she seems to be the epitome of what he wants in a wife. Then, at a party at Honeywell House, he spies Catherine across the room and is strangely smitten. Catherine is likewise attracted to the handsome nobleman. As they dance together, she finds herself confiding about her past indiscretion, putting it in perspective for the first time. Jonathan likewise discovers that he can be his real self in Catherineís presence.

But Jonathan is courting Lady Laura and Lady Laura is Catherineís friend. Then, late on midsummerís eve, as she looks into the wishing well, she sees Jonathanís face. He has seen her light and come to investigate. The powerful attraction the two feel for each other sparks an unexpected passion. However, that very evening, Jonathan had asked Lord Lindsay for Lauraís hand.

Catherineís Wish thus depends on a very traditional Regency plot device: the inability of an honorable man to withdraw from a betrothal. True, the earl is not supportive of Jonathanís suit, but Laura views herself as engaged to Jonathan. He certainly has been courting her assiduously. So what are he and Catherine to do about their passionate love?

In Catherine, Reed has created an attractive and interesting heroine. She has regrets about her behavior at sixteen, but because she understands why she acted as she did, she has little guilt. Adversity has made her strong and confident. She is also loyal to her friend, at least to the extent that she insists that Jonathan do the right thing.

I must admit that I found Jonathan a less appealing character. Would a truly honorable man make love to one woman while seriously courting another? I know, the author tried to suggest that Jonathan and Catherine were simply swept away by an uncontrollable passion, but I was not persuaded. I almost felt that the love scenes -- however well done -- were there because this is a Regency historical and they were supposed to be there. They diminished my sympathy for the hero rather than increasing it.

Still, there is much to enjoy in Catherineís Wish. Reed includes a mystery as someone is attacking women in the neighborhood. She does a very good job with her secondary characters, including the local vicar and the censorious village ladies, young and old. However, the fact that I simply could not warm up to Jonathan keeps me from recommending Catherineís Wish. If the hero doesnít work, the book doesnít work, at least for this reader.

--Jean Mason


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