The Summer Fields
Fergusson’s unique historical romance reads like many novels in one: it patches together a creepy gothic story, horror fiction, and entertaining historical romantic adventure. In Radnorshire, Wales, in 1704, dairymaid Elen Griffiths is summoned from her father’s cottage by a local physician, Dr Argyll, who needs someone to tend to Viscount Mordiford at Duntisbourne Hall during his bout with smallpox. Elen is immune from the “red plague,” having had cowpox before, and her education means she’s well suited to be an aristocrat’s caregiver.
Mordiford is disagreeable and the Hall exceedingly sinister, and Elen’s hopes of broadening her horizons vanish in the face of arduous nursing tasks and enforced isolation. Nearly a quarter of the novel takes place under these circumstances, which feel intensely claustrophobic. As Mordiford recovers his strength and sense of wit under Elen’s care (the methods are creatively unorthodox), Elen faces danger from another avenue. She befriends valet Ned Harley, and their connection turns romantic, but the Hall hosts debauched gatherings, and this time it’s Mordiford’s turn to save Elen from harm.
Following unusual circumstances, Elen boards a ship for The Hague with Dr Argyll, acting as his nurse as he travels with the army during the Duke of Marlborough’s campaign against the French. By then, she and Mordiford have acknowledged their attraction, although she despairs of finding him again on the war-torn Continent, and any shared future seems doubtful.
Fergusson brings to life Marlborough’s campaign up to his victory at Blenheim from the viewpoint of medical personnel, who deal with the traumatic aftermath of battle. The ending is too neat, and Elen and Mordiford have few chances to spend time together when he’s healthy, but it’s a well-researched story, particularly regarding early 18th-century medical treatments. Recommended for romance readers wanting a change of pace.