Lord St. Claire’s Angel
by Donna Simpson
(Zebra, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-8217-6449-7
Welcome another new author to the Regency ranks. Lord St. Claire’s Angel is Donna Simpson’s first novel and it’s a good one. The book epitomizes the “character-driven” romance, concentrating as it does on the hero’s slow awakening to the fact that his pleasure-filled life as a tonnish flirt and roué is, in fact, meaningless. His discovery results from his growing love for a most unlikely angel, an on-the-shelf, plain, spinster governess. Celestine Simons is not at all the kind of woman who usually attracted Lord Justin St.Claire.

Indeed, one of the reasons that Elizabeth, Marchioness of Ladymead, hired her friend Emily Sedgley’s niece was Celestine Simons’ unprepossessing appearance. When her brother-in-law visited Ladymead the previous Christmas, he was found embracing the then governess under a kissing bough. Elizabeth had no choice but to dismiss the designing minx. The marchioness is sure that Justin will not deign to bother Miss Simons. Indeed, she brags to her brother-in-law that she has thwarted his penchant for inappropriate dalliance.

This is all the challenge that Justin needs. He determines to engage Miss Simons in a flirtation, just to show Elizabeth, this despite that fact that the woman has no obvious attraction to him. Indeed, with her mousy brown hair, her undistinguished features (except for her speaking gray eyes), her atrociously unattractive clothes, Celestine is the antithesis of the kind of woman who is usually the object of Justin’s attentions. Moreover, the governess has a serious physical flaw; her hands are swollen and twisted as a result of arthritis.

Justin’s selfish and self-serving intentions are momentarily checked when he attends choir practice and discovers that Celestine sings like an angel. Her soaring solo moves him to tears and, for the first time, he begins to contemplate the barrenness of his own life. He thinks of giving up his game, but instead finds excuses to continue his pursuit of his niece’s governess. And when he catches her in an unexpected embrace, he discovers that unexpected passion lurks behind Celestine’s prim facade.

Celestine’s life has not been easy. For years she nursed her beloved father through his terminal illness. When he died, she discovered that his property was entailed to a distant cousin. She could have resided with her Aunt Emily, but she wanted to be independent and she wanted to work with children, since she had no hopes of ever having children of her own. Hence the position at Ladymead. Celestine is unexpectedly attracted to the handsome Lord Justin, but she has no illusions that anything can come of her growing feelings.

I really enjoyed Lord St. Claire’s Angle. Simpson convinced me that Justin’s amazing change of heart was actually happening and that his improbable love for Celestine was true and real. The reader spends a lot of time in Justin’s point of view, watching him, at the age of thirty-two, finally come to terms with his life. The reader also comes to know Celestine very well, to understand her doubts and hopes, and to care about her.

Simpson shows a real understanding of Regency society. Her portrayal of the hard life of a governess rings true. She also creates an interesting cast of secondary characters who add depth to the story. The setting is also very nicely drawn. One could almost feel one was in Cumbria at Christmastide.

But, as I noted above, Lord St. Claire’s Angel is primarily about the relationship between Justin and Celestine and about how falling in love enriches the lives of two people who unexpectedly find their true soul-mate. The book is a paean to the power of love to transform the lovers and to make them better people. And, after all, isn’t that what romance is all about?

--Jean Mason

Note to Zebra: When are you going to find copyeditors who understand British titles? I hate to sound pedantic, but our hero would never be called Lord St. Claire. His courtesy title as the son of a marquess is Lord Justin St. Claire or Lord Justin. And Celestine will never be Lady St. Claire. She’ll be Lady Justin. Oh, well.

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