A Night to Surrender kicks off a new historical romance trilogy from Tessa Dare, one of my favorite authors of the last several years. Dare writes humorous romps that stand out from the flock with fluid, well-crafted prose, witty dialogue, and lots of snort-worthy situations. Set in England in 1813 during the Napoleonic Wars, this tale concerns the small southern coastal town of Spindle Cove, nicknamed Spinster Cove because it’s known as a town without men. Without men, you ask? Okay, there are a few merchants and fishermen, but it’s without the risk and temptation of eligible men, be they lords, officers, rakes, or fortune hunters.
Our heroine is Susanna Finch, daughter of the only neighborhood gentry, who runs the village as a seaside retreat for young ladies who don’t fit into Society, either from shyness, disability, or an attraction to the wrong sorts of men. In addition to the usual genteel pursuits of salons, walks, and music lessons, the ladies of Spindle Cove also practice swimming in the ocean and shooting, and Susanna is proud of her work helping these outcasts find their own strengths, however unconventional they may be.
Our hero is Lieutenant Colonel Victor Bramwell, a military man at heart who is recovering from a wounded knee and hoping to regain his command. Accompanying him are two companions, his rakish cousin Colin and his blunt subordinate Corporal Thorne, both bearing the welcome stamp of future heroes. Bram has come to Spindle Cove to plead his case with Susanna’s father, a respected military arms and armaments inventor, but instead of being sent back into battle he finds himself titled the new Earl of Rycliff and charged with building up a militia for the town’s annual midsummer fair.
Bram and Susanna first meet when he tries to clear the road of some sheep by planting explosive charges, and Susanna thinks he’s attacking the fleecy enemy because he’s had his wits addled in the war. (Note: no sheep were harmed in this book.) What follows is a very funny battle of the sexes, as Bram and his men try to find able-bodied men for the militia in a town so feminized that even the tavern has been turned into a ladies’ tearoom. The men’s attempts to bring some testosterone back into the village are resisted by Susanna, but she and Bram can’t help but be drawn together despite their cross purposes.
Dare has a talent for weaving in secondary characters in a seamless way, and the set-up for the next two couples is both intriguing and fun. Colin butts heads with geology enthusiast Minerva in the classic equation of rake versus bluestocking equals irresistible attraction. And Corporal Thorne is just priceless in his laconic practicality, with a nice simmering tension between him and Kate, the village’s music teacher. Overall I was charmed by the characters and their amusing dynamics, and can’t wait for my next visit to Spindle Cove.