Listen to the Moon (Book 3 in the Lively St. Lemeston series) is a romance between two servants – a rare find in historicals. In real life, Regency Era servants had incredibly exhausting lives, but many of them still found time to court each other, marry, and have families. This book gives a happy ending to a maid and an unemployed valet.
Regency romances are full of people marrying against the will of their parents or the norms of society. John Toogood (THAT NAME!) is a casualty of one such romance. In the first book of the series, a Mr. Dymond marries a woman against his imperious mother’s will. John was Mr. Dymond’s valet, and he assisted Mr. Dymond in the courtship. When Mr. Dymond’s mother found out, she fired John.
Meanwhile, Sukey Grimes is a maid of all work. She is rebellious, tough, and funny. She works for a stingy woman who runs a boarding house and also works part-time cleaning another house, where John eventually rents an attic room.
Sukey and John immediately realize that they are both attracted to one another and that they are opposites. Sukey is intelligent but not well-educated. She’s impulsive, talkative, and prone to cutting corners on her work simply because there’s no other way to get it all done. John is a perfectionist. He wants things to be done right, and he can’t relax until they are. He’s cautious, and he speaks in the vernacular and accent of the upperclasses for whom he’s accustomed to working. John puts a high value on honor, which in his case involves pride in a job not just done but well done. Sukey, who has had a more tumultuous life and who has fewer prospects of upward mobility, places a high value on survival.
John and Sukey carry on a mild flirtation until John gets a job offer. A vicar wants a butler for his small household. It’s a perfect way for John to advance from valet to butler, because the household only consists of the vicar, a cook, a footman, and two maids. However, the vicar insists that the new butler be a married man. If John and Sukey marry, she can fill the role of upper housemaid and John can take the butler position. Thus do two people who barely know each other embark on a marriage marked by much misunderstanding and copious amounts of hard work. The question isn’t “Will these two people get together?” It’s “Can these two people manage to stay together and form a truly loving relationship?” It’s a romance novel. Go ahead and guess. I’ll wait.
There are so many things to love about this book. One of the things I loved was the details of how the house is run, and the difference between running a household and running it properly. The book does a great job explaining why one vicar needs so many servants. It also does a good job (herein lies a TRIGGER WARNING) of showing how vulnerable women in service are to sexual abuse. The reason the vicar wants a married butler is that he believes that a married man will be less likely to prey on staff than a single man – and it appears that the previous butler was a predator, leaving John to exercise extreme tact with his traumatized staff. The discussion of abuse is neither graphic nor glossed over, and the healing process that individuals go through as well as the household in general is detailed, realistic, and touching.
As far as romance goes, the relationship between Sukey and John is often playful and fun, and often painful, as two people with completely different coping strategies (but excellent senses of humor) try to connect on an emotional level. They have no problems when it comes to sex, but resolving conflict requires herculean effort and patience on their parts. It’s incredibly moving to see how they express affection for each other through considerate actions when words fail them.
John and Sukey earn their HEA because they both feel that a loving marriage is important and attainable and they both put in the work to create the kind of life that they want. It’s a life of considerably less leisure time than the life of an aristocrat, but it’s a life that will allow them to be together, to earn a decent living, and to enjoy many small pleasures (and a lot of great sex)) along the way. I found it intensely enjoyable to see people who are so often invisible in historical romance represented in a realistic yet tender and hopeful way. The characters, including the racially and economically diverse supporting characters, are well-rounded and have believable flaws and virtues. The writing is lovely and the development of the romance is deeply satisfying. More historicals like this, please!
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