I first discovered Katherine Kingsley earlier this year. After reading her novel The Sound of Snow, I was so impressed that I snapped up the rest of her books at the used bookstore. On a side note, I would like to mention that being able to purchase books for half price at the used bookstore has made my historical romance novel hobby/obsession a lot more manageable. But, I digress. The second Kingsley book that I read was Once Upon a Dream which was a Cinderella story. While it wasn't as good as The Sound of Snow, I still enjoyed reading it. In the Presence of Angels is the third Kingsley novel that I have read and I must admit that I am a little disappointed.
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This novel begins with the 1815 battle of Waterloo. Will Fitzpatrick promises his dying friend Val that he will give him a proper burial. Will and Val had been good friends for the past 5 years and so after the war, Will journeys to the home of Val's widow Louisa in order to meet her and tell her how brave her husband was, etc. When Will arrives, Louisa assumes that he is there to inquire about the handyman position she placed a want-ad for. As it turns out, Val used to read his letters from home to Will, who began to fall in love with Louisa and the rest of Val's life. When Will sees that Louisa is clearly in need of help, he jumps at the chance to help her.
Working as a farmhand is not as easy as it might seem. Will, who is really the son of a marquis, knows nothing about farming and disaster almost strikes when one of his old friends from London arrives at Louisa's home for a visit. In this funny scene, Louisa persuades Will into posing as a footman so that the friend will not think that the family has fallen on hard times. Will spends the evening attempting not to show his face so that he will not be recognized.
As Will and Louisa spend time together, they begin to fall in love despite their alleged socio-economic differences. In this modern era, this would not be such a big issue, but Louisa would be permanently ostracized if her budding relationship is discovered. Will learns that Val has quite a few secrets and he is not the man Will thought he was. Speaking of secrets, Louisa is unaware of Will's true identity- how will she feel when she learns the truth?
I found this book to be incredulous for several reasons. To begin with, Will has little or no difficulty passing himself off as a farmhand despite his severe lack of knowledge. He does have difficulties adjusting to his new position but no one notices. Will quickly becomes an honorary member of the family- due to financial hardships suffered during Val's army days, the family has fallen on hard times and they are not the type to treat their employees as social inferiors. However, Louisa and her father see nothing strange about the new farmhand tutoring Louisa's daughter when she has difficulty in Latin. Will also suggests that the family engage in philosophical debates at the dinner table. This only raises eyebrows because Cook doesn't like fancy-talk at her table. I suppose that some liberties can be taken- after all, this is fiction- it never happened, but it could have, right? I don't want to ruin anything about The Sound of Snow because I really recommend it, but I can say this much: it is a psychological thriller vaguely reminiscent of the movie The Others. In the Presence of Angels also features supernatural elements- Will sees angels. I wish I could explain more, but I just don't get it. I can tell you that the angels arrive when people die but no explanation is really given for why Will sees angels. This could have been a really interesting plot element but instead, it is an unexplained phenomenon just dripping with saccharine.
Kingsley offers potentially interesting plotlines but she does not really develop them at all. I don't want to give anything away, but there is a flashback scene involving Will, his twin brother, and a local girl. This pivotal event is the biggest reason that Will joined the army and it was a turning point in his life. I would have placed this scene before the Waterloo prologue, but Kingsley has relegated it to a mere flashback.
This novel reminds me of another historical romance that I recently read- the Forest Lord by Susan Krinard. In that novel, the hero also befriended the heroine, who was also a single mother. Of course, The Forest Lord liberally employed fantasy elements- the hero is not even human. I'm not quite sure why, but I enjoyed The Forest Lord a lot more than In the Presence of Angels. I think that part of the reason that I did not enjoy this book is because I was disturbed by Will's deception. He knows that what he is doing is not exactly kosher, yet he persists in living a lie even though he is really bad at being a farmhand. Ugh!
If the plot interests you, then I recommend The Forest Lord by Susan Krinard. If you are looking for a good Kingsley novel, I recommend The Sound of Snow and Once Upon a Dream. There is a sequel to this novel, but unfortunately, it is even worse than this book.
While I do enjoy Kingsley's novels, I cannot recommend In the Presence of Angels.