Title: Langley’s Choice
Author: Kate Dolan
Published in 2003 by Zumaya Publications
Genre: Historical Romance
Linked to one of the first families in Maryland, Miss Caroline Carter regards herself as a true lady. Accomplished in the arts of intricate needlework, music and languages, she does not have the time to worry about running a household – she has servants to take care of that. Becoming engaged to the most eligible bachelor in the district, she enjoys a newfound freedom in her changed status. She can be found leading her sisters on visits to her aunt, planning memorable dinner menus with her mother, or entertaining her betrothed with her family. It is at these times that she does not always show the proper respect due towards her fiancé, much to his dismay. Now is the time to start preparations for married life – she should be working on the fancy embroidery that would trim her trousseau. But where is she? The slightly spoilt twenty-year-old has gone missing and nobody has a clue as to where she could have disappeared. How is her father to keep this shocking news secret from her husband-to-be?
Dressed in men’s clothing, Caroline is unwittingly pressed into service aboard the sloop Osprey. Her tiny frame leads the crew to believe she is a lad of fourteen; her voice they likened to a squeak, and as a result dubbed her “the little mouse”. Working as hard as the other seamen, she begins to like her new life out on the open sea. She missed the comforts of home at times, but never her sisters. An accident leads to the discovery of her gender, forcing the captain of the Osprey to take her ashore to Charles Town. It is there that her brother and fiancé rescue her. Taken back home against her will, Caroline must deal with the guilt of tragedy and the knowledge that her actions have all but ruined her family. With all the servants sold, she must now take responsibility of the household and her family during her father’s absence. Swallowing her pride, she asks a slave and a tenant farmer to teach her how to survive. Without money, her family no longer belonged in society, but with money, would polite society still accept her after all her escapades?
Very sensible, very serious, very shy, Mr Josiah Throckmorton bought Langley’s Choice sight unseen. Arriving from London less than a year ago, he promptly renamed his plantation Hanset House after an estate of his mother’s family. A qualified barrister, his very polite and articulate nature is out of place in the colonies, where people had to adjust to the clime in order to survive. Having a somewhat pessimistic and anxious outlook, and no sense of humour to ease the worry, he needs to bring in a good tobacco crop this year to keep his debts in check. Either that or he would need to sell his legal expertise at the next assizes, which he finds very undesirable. Becoming engaged to the eldest daughter of the Hill Crest plantation, Josiah learns that his standing in society is dependant on the shaky financial status of his plantation. Status is everything to him. His sensibilities are severely shocked when he learns that pirates have taken his bride-to-be. What is he going to do now?
Dragged most reluctantly into a quest to rescue his fiancée, Josiah constantly questions his unwillingness to speak up for himself. He just can’t believe that he left his plantation to sail off blindly in search of a woman whom society will reject on her return. Somehow he felt obliged to see this thing through. Having found and returned the disgraced girl to the fold of her family, he can’t seem to distance himself from the residents of Hill Crest plantation. Travelling to the assizes with the man who would have been his father-in-law if his engagement were not postponed indefinitely, Josiah tries to think of a way to successfully defend against a debt action raised against the man. He doesn’t understand the need to save the family from ruin, only that it felt the right thing to do. He doesn’t understand the need to ensure his ex-fiancée’s acceptance into society, only that it felt the right thing to do. Why is he doing this for a family that no longer has any claims on him?
When the world of civilised England meets the world of the not-so-civilized colonies, the resultant clash reveals who will survive and who returns back to Queen and country, with their tails between their legs. A stickler for routine and schedules, Josiah adapts to the unexpected rigours that face him without knowing it. A man who is used to observing life, he is constantly second-guessing his abilities to cope with lashings of anxiety thrown in for good measure. Slowly but surely he learns not to take himself or his environs too seriously, and in the process makes himself more attractive as a person. Bored with her life, Caroline learns the hard way the repercussions of thinking only of herself. Bearing her burden and self-imposed punishment with as much poise and dignity she can muster, Caroline begins to learn there is more to life than that of a pampered lady. Enforced humility opens her eyes to what a real gentlewoman should know and do, and as a result, her altered perceptions subtly change her demeanour, making her more acceptable.
The colonies is a country where gentlemen, servants and slaves alike can make a new future for themselves. A place where fortunes are made and where fortunes are lost. Langley’s Choice is about making decisions and the repercussions of those decisions. It’s about choosing to ride life, or letting life ride you. Kate Dolan throws us off the scent with the introduction of another possible hero, leaving us to ponder who will Caroline choose? Will she grow up and make the right choice? Kate’s ability to allow us a snapshot of what colonial life was like is a tribute to her research and writing abilities. She demonstrates that some people are beyond learning life’s lessons. Langley’s Choice is full of subtle humour and subtle romance as we watch within our mind how Josiah and Caroline evolve into much better people. Though not filled with lashings of romance and sexual angst as some of the more popular romance novels offer, this contribution from Zumaya Publications is a wonderful book. It gives you a sense that everything will work out for the better if you trust in yourself and in God.