With This Ring
1997, Regency Romance
Since Mary Balogh is no longer going to write traditional regency novels, Carla Kelly is now the regency author whose books I am going to prowl the stores for. Whenever I hear anyone sat that romance novels are nothing but tripe, I feel like giving them a copy of With This Ring and saying, "Read this, then we'll talk".
I can best describe With This Ring as an off-kilter regency variation of the Cinderella story. The Cinderella character is Lydia Perkins, the eldest daughter of a baronet. Her nemeses are her incredibly beautiful, incredibly stupid, incredibly spoiled-rotten selfish younger sister Kitty and their mother who indulges all of Kitty's pouts and tantrums and treats Lydia like a lady's maid. Their father hides in the library and avoids all conflict.
The kind of shabby prince is Major Samuel Reed, Lord Laren. He is an Earl but prefers to be known as Major Reed, not Lord Laren. Sam has suffered a shoulder wound, but hasn't had adequate treatment because he just can't bear the pain. He is staying with his wounded soldiers in an old church that's been turned into a hospital and meets Lydia and Kitty when they go there. It seems that all the fashionable fops think it great sport to come in and look at the wounded soldiers, but God forbid they touch them! Tender hearted Lydia pitches in and helps, to the horror of Kitty.
When the Perkins are attending a large banquet, Lydia exposes the horrible conditions the wounded soldiers are living in, and fickle Society turns on the Perkins family. Since this utterly ruins Kitty's chances for a fashionable marriage, Lydia's mother beats her in the face and turns her out of the house. When Lydia goes to the church to get her bonnet, Sam finds out what happened and comes to her rescue by proposing marriage. It seems that Sam has been writing to his family telling them all about his wonderful bride. Sam needs a wife and Lydia needs a home. They marry and begin the long trip to Sam's home.
On their journey, they are attacked by robbers, Sam is wounded again and they lose all their money. In this section, Carla Kelly introduces some of her delightful supporting characters. I fell in love with the surgeon, Mr. Wilburn, who treated Sam's wounds. A more kindhearted man I have yet to meet. Mr. and Mrs. Innis who own the inn where Sam and Lydia stay, are much better to Lydia than her own family. When Lydia desperately needs money, she cuts off and sells her hair. When the Innis's find out, Mrs. Innis and her daughter do the same. Let's see Kitty and Lady Perkins do that! During Sam's illness and convalescence, Lydia discovers that she is not the stupid, unlovely drudge that her mother and Kitty think she is, but a capable, attractive woman. Cinderella ends up not only rescuing the prince, but she falls in love with him too.
I didn't find one thing wrong with this book. It has two totally lovable main characters in Sam and Lydia, and a wonderful group of supporting characters. As for the villains, not very many of us have met truly evil people, but we have met people like Kitty and Lady Perkins; spoiled, petulant, and bone-deep selfish. The story never drags and is never rushed, and I, who normally do not like regencies that much, was utterly enchanted with it.
-- Ellen Micheletti, All About Romance
"Kelly has the rare ability to create realistic yet sympathetic characters that linger in the mind.
One of the most respected Regency writers."