The Unexpected Sister
by Glenda Garland
Lord Thomas Dashley, a former Exploring Officer in the Peninsula, is visiting the family of a friend for whose death Thomas feels responsible. Thomas was captured by the French and under torture told them that the troops were heading south, when they were in reality heading north. However, Peter Wendham's company was inexplicably in the south and so he and others were killed in the ensuing battle. Though Wellington acquitted him of any wrongdoing, and an investigation was made as to why Peter's company was where they shouldn't have been, Thomas still feels guilty over the deaths. He is traveling round England apologizing to the families of those killed and Peter's home is his last stop.
Peter used to share his sister Melisande's letters with Thomas and he hopes to make some kind of amends by marrying her and taking care of her future support. It helps his altruism that he fell in love with Melisande through her letters and a sketch of her that Peter kept. He is surprised to find that there is another, unexpected half-sister, one whom Peter never mentioned – Caroline. While Melisande rejects Thomas' overtures of sympathy, blaming him for her brother's death, Caroline has pity and doubts as to his guilt.
Thomas takes a house in the neighborhood hoping to be of use to Melisande and to eventually win her hand, though he spends much more time with Caroline. Melisande is a great beauty, but cool, haughty, and closed off emotionally. Caroline is much more open, and spends her time teaching in the parish school. While Melisande is the Queen of the neighborhood, Caroline is everyone's favorite. It doesn't take Thomas long to recognize that Caroline would make a much more comfortable wife, but he is so fixated on winning the unapproachable Melisande, that he cannot see that Caroline is perfect for him.
The relationship between the sisters is very difficult and hard to get a handle on. Melisande is not very kind to Caroline; she is always finding fault and correcting her but yet Caroline looks up to and admires her elder sister. I couldn't see much to appreciate in Melisande and was frustrated by Caroline's continued meekness and Thomas' continued pursuit. Perhaps if we had gotten to read some of Melisande's letters to Peter we would see some reason for Thomas to believe he loves her, for other than her great beauty, she has nothing to recommend her.
This is Garland's second novel, and I have the same complaint about this one as I did her first: there is really very little romance in this Traditional Regency Romance. Thomas and Caroline do not even begin to approach or to think of each other in a romantic way until very late in the book. Too much of the book is spent on Melisande, at the expense of Thomas and Caroline, and unfortunately she is not a nice person with whom to spend time. I also think Garland's very formal, stylized language and voice added to the lack of sparks between the hero and the heroine.
I very much liked Garland's debut book, except for the lack of romance, and I was looking forward to her sophomore effort. I regret that I did not enjoy this more.
Reviewed by Cheryl Sneed, March 18, 2004
“A retired army officer chooses the wrong sister to woo.”
March 2004, 254 pages
Though he fought bravely for King and Country, Lord Thomas Dashley lost a friend and fellow officer to a stealthy French attack…and it is whispered that he was to blame. He has returned to England under suspicion but determined to explain the matter to the officer's sister, Melisande, whose letters gave him courage in the darkest moments of the war. Lord Dashley has vowed to make amends, no matter the cost—and to make Melisande his own. But there is another sister, Caroline, of whom he knew nothing—and whose charm and kindness heal his battered spirit…
Caroline cannot believe that a man as honorable as Lord Dashley could be responsible for her brother's death. Though Melisande condemns him and scandalous rumors swirl, Caroline knows instinctively that he is innocent. Solving the mystery will be no easy task but she must do whatever she can to help him…for the handsome officer has captured her heart…