REVIEW: By Sword and Fan by Kathleen Buckley

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Margaret is her brothers’ dependent. With her sister-in-law expecting another child and her younger brother soon to marry, Margaret will lose her home. When her former suitor offers her work as a governess, she accepts, despite misgivings.

Unable to marry his first love, Alasdair abandoned his home for a disappointing military career. When his dying brother begs him to return, he agrees. He must protect his brother, the children, and the estate from his brother’s wife and her greedy family.

While on his brother’s business, Alasdair meets his old sweetheart. Can love flare up again despite family chaos and fifteen years’ separation?

Dear Ms. Buckley,

Last year “A Peculiar Enchantment” was one of my Best of 2022 books. This one doesn’t quite reach that level but I still enjoyed it as, once again, it took me back to the Fawcett Crest books of my youth. Behavior matters. Etiquette matters. Family reputation matters. And there’s no sex. Okay so if that isn’t what a reader wants, this book probably won’t be for them. 

Margaret MacGavin is a widow now, living with her two brothers in London, above the shop, as Rupert and Adam run a Salle D’Armes teaching fencing as well as selling arms to gentlemen. She also brings in a bit of money to the household by giving lessons to the daughters of merchants. She and her brothers are the children of the second son of a Baronet but are firmly viewed as “trade” now which is why in her youth, her romance with Alasdair Falstone, the second son of a Baron, was thwarted. Alasdair’s brother, fresh from London and feeling snooty, didn’t feel that she was good enough for the family. 

Angered by his brother’s threat to cut him off financially should he marry Margaret, Alasdair leaves home, enters the Army, and give up his love after her father (a former military man, himself) writes Alaisdar a letter telling him of his own wife’s experience “following the drum” and how he felt that his wife’s health was ruined by this. With little money of his own and fearing for Margaret, Alasdair doesn’t write to her. 

Now fifteen years later, Alasdair’s brother writes to him, apologizing for his actions and (basically) begging his younger brother to come home. The Baron married badly and with failing health, he worries that his spendthrift wife will run through the estate monies supporting her rakish brothers, the eldest of whom the Baron had named as his childrens’ guardian. When Alasdair reaches home, he sees how desperate the situation is and agrees to take over, carrying his brother’s new will to the lawyers in Newcastle and London. While in London, he searches for a tutor for his nephews and a governess for his nieces. Guess who he finds. 

Margaret is sure that her love for Alasdair his died, that its roots have been yanked out of her heart, and also that this is her chance to earn enough money to give her some independence and control over her destiney as well as help set her up for her old age since both of her brothers (who dearly love her) will have the expenses of families to meet. So off she goes to Northumberland, back toward where she was raised in County Durham, and determined to be nothing but professional with Alasdair. But when something threatens her charges, Margaret isn’t going to faint or sit waiting for a man to save the day. Can Alasdair accept this fearless woman and is there a chance for the love they both set aside years ago?

Just about everything I said regarding “A Peculiar Enchantment” goes for this one, too. I will also caution readers that it is slow burn and seems a bit more historical fiction with a romance than a strict historical romance. There are sections during the part where the threatening takes place where Margaret and (separately) Alasdair think through what might happen next and how they could/should respond should this take place or that happen. I like that they think through things rather than just charging in but at times my mental “yeah, yeah, yeah, come on” hand twirl got engaged. 

I enjoyed watching Sebastian not only make up to Alasdair but also see to the welfare of his children. He obviously loves them and worries about what will happen after his death. Once that does occur, Alasdair and the other family, servants, and estate tenants begin training fourteen year old Colin in his new duties. In turn, Colin sees how well thought of his father was and worries about living up to his responsibilities as a good estate owner should. The children also love each other and protect each other. They are not plot moppets either. Huzzah. 

Along with Margaret, there is a tutor and various lawyers and bankers with whom Alasdair and the family interact. They are all treated with courtesy and respected for what they do. As well, the old family servants and retainers (but maybe not the toadies brought in by Lady Hawkslowe) hold positions of respect and are looked after. During an inquest, the magistrate and the coroner cleverly question Margaret in such a way that the male jurors – who are used to their women taking leading positions and helping in businesses and on the farm – applaud what she has done. 

It’s clear to readers that Margaret and Alasdair initially both think well of each other but given their past history and current positions, they act with courtesy and circumspection. Margaret doesn’t want to give Lady Hawkslowe any reason to think she’s setting her cap for Alasdair and he doesn’t want to overstep his position of authority over a servant (not the mark of a gentleman), as Margaret is. But he respects her intelligence, her riding ability, and something else she can do as well as how she averts a troublesome issue in the end. Margaret thinks that he has grown into a confident person who is ready to see to his responsibilities and family. In the name of honor and respect and despite the obvious fact that they both still have feelings for the other, they both seem ready to continue to forgo any romantic hopes until The Breakthrough occurs but readers will have to wait for that. Margaret might think that the passion of their youth is behind them but … nope, it’s still there. They have matured, have gained confidence in themselves and are ready for their second chance. B


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Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 25 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there’s no TSTL characters and is currently reading more fantasy and SciFi.

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