A Most Exceptional Quest
by Sarah Westleigh
(Harlequin, $4.50, PG) ISBN 0-373-51114-0
***
Amnesia is one of romance’s staple plot devices, although it is much more frequently found in contemporary than historical romances. Sarah Westleigh has transported this old warhorse back to Regency times and gives us a nice tale about a soldier who cannot remember his past and the woman who helps him with his exceptional quest to discover his identity.

“John Smith” was wounded at the siege of Badajoz. He ended up in the care of Portuguese peasants who returned him to the British forces, but without any indication of his regiment, his uniform having been destroyed. “John” suffered a serious head wound and is invalided home. Clearly, he is a gentleman and must have been an officer. When Percy Sinclair, the army mad son of Viscount Maldon, meets the wounded soldier and invites him to stay with the family, all are delighted, except perhaps Percy’s sister, Mrs. Davinia Darling.

Davinia, or Vinnie as she is called, is only twenty-three but she has been a widow for two years. She lives a fashionable life in London, but has come home to visit for the summer. She certainly is sympathetic to “John Smith’s” plight, but she is uncomfortable with the feelings he engenders in her. Still, the Sinclairs are determined to help their guest in his quest to find out who he is, so Vinnie, Percy and “John” head up to London to see if anyone in society will recognize the mystery man.

A Most Exceptional Quest has two elements: “John’s” search and his romance with Vinnie. As he falls in love with his hostess, it becomes much more essential that he learn about his past. But there are mysteries behind mysteries in this tale, and it soon becomes apparent that there are secrets that “John” does not really wish to learn.

By gradually uncovering “John’s” experiences, Westleigh provides considerable detail about the Peninsular War from its inception. By having “John” (or as he is finally identified, Justin) gradually remember what happened, the author manages to bring a certain immediacy to this material. And by having Vinnie and Percy listen to these reminiscences, she can show both, but especially the former, come to appreciate the bravery and suffering of the man who entered her life in such an unusual fashion.

The romance is pleasant if not particularly exciting. In a way, it’s very nice to watch the hero and heroine gradually come to know each other and to watch attraction develop into love. Vinnie’s reluctance to admit what she is feeling is perhaps a bit forced, but certainly it is understandable, given both her situation and the hero’s lack of knowledge about his past.

All of the authors of these reprinted Regencies (see the Marshall review for details), Westleigh has a real feel for Regency society. There are no errors or anachronisms here. The response of the ton to this mystery man seems quite on target. There is also a sweet secondary romance as Percy falls for a most surprising young miss.

Thus, I found A Most Exceptional Quest a most acceptable Regency romance. If the other dozen Mills and Boon reprints that Harlequin will be issuing over the next year are as good, Regency fans have reason to rejoice. So let’s all make sure that Harlequin decides to keep those Regencies coming. I don’t think anyone will regret buying all four of these books. I know I don’t.

--Jean Mason


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