I loved this book. I like most books by this author, so I wasn’t surprised. Looking back though my reviews, I can see that I read and reviewed this novel before, when it first came out in 2012, but I didn’t remember the story, so it felt like a fresh read.
The tale is a classic historical romance. Gwen and Hugo belong to different classes. She is a lady, with many generations of aristocracy behind her. He is a middle-class man, granted his title and land for his valor in the war against Napoleon. He doesn’t much like nobility and he definitely doesn’t feel like one of them.
Both have suffered in the past and bear scars, although those scars are not always visible. Both are mature people, over thirty years old, not naïve youngsters. When they first meet, there is an instant attraction, mixed with dislike—they are too different. The rest of the novel unfolds around these two trying to find a way towards each other, while simultaneously resisting the attraction. To paraphrase Hugo, “it would be daft” to tie their lives together, for various reasons, but love is a demanding mistress and wouldn’t be denied.
Besides belonging to different classes, they also belong to different sexes (surprise!) and not always understand each other, or rather Hugo doesn’t always understand Gwen. She, like many intuitive women, is much better in getting the emotional nuances straight.
Below is a wonderful quote—Hugo’s baffled contemplation on the mystery of women.
Had she meant it? He had thought so at the time, but really, could women—ladies—be so blasé about sexual encounters? Men could. But women? Had he been too ready to take her at her words?
What if she was with child and would not write to him.
And why could he not stop thinking of her day or night… always she was there at the back of his mind—and sometimes not so far back.
He would be an idiot to marry her.
But she would save him from idiocy. She would not marry him even if he asked. She had made it very clear that she didn’t want him to ask.
But had she meant it?
He wished he understood women better. It was a well-known fact that they didn’t mean half of what they said.
But which half did they mean?
He would be an idiot.
So the two disparate partners play an ancient game of wooing and seduction, courting each other and retreating again. Almost like a chess game, although in the end, both are the winners.
The story grows gently: no mystery or danger is involved in the blossoming romance. Not many pages are devoted to sex scenes either, which I consider a plus. The bed time is there, when necessary, but the intercourse descriptions are kept to an absolute minimum. It’s all very classy, and the suspense comes from within the protagonists, interspaced with faint but unmistakable humor. Would they finally accept their differences? Would they cross the line between classes and find happiness together? Would it work for them?
Of course, in the best traditions of the genre, it does work, but the author doesn’t deceive her readers. She and her characters know it’s not going to be simple or easy. But it is doable.
I liked this novel so much that I already borrowed the next two novels in the series from my library. I’m starting the next one tonight.
Recommended for everyone who likes historical romance.