5 out of 5 stars
Cut to the Chase:
There are a ton of cliches in this book — the friend who’s always secretly been in love with the best friend’s sibling, amnesia, perfectly well-timed recovery from amnesia, one of the protagonists bein an author (shocker). But Thomas expertly turns each of these cliches on its head, giving us layered characters and a wonderfully believable and multidimensionally layered love story. It’s almost like she’s set a challenge for herself: to use all the standard cliches in a creative and thoroughly enthralling way. This was a wonderful historical romance, and though I am usually NOT a fan, this is one of the best historical romances I’ve read in a long time.
At the start of this book, Helena Fitzhugh is in love with Andrew Martin, a married man to whom she has been devoted for five years. They are having an affair (though apparently not one that involved sex-sex, but rather everything-but-sex), and are discovered by Viscount Hastings (David Hillsborough), who has always secretly been in love with Helena. He warns her that this is unwise, and that sooner or later, someone will discover the affair.
Shenanigans ensue. Later, at yet another assignation, Hastings manages to warn the ill-fated lovers just as Andrew and Helena are about to be discovered. Hastings uses the event as an opportunity to announce that he and Helena have eloped, saving her reputation and binding her to him in one smooth move. Before the marriage can be consummated, Helena is hit by a carriage (while trying to run towards Andrew), and loses most of her memory.
So, having typed all of that, I can see that the plot’s a bit of a doozy. And, to give Thomas credit, she’s a good enough writer that you really end up swallowing all of that. Even though there’s a small corner of your brain saying: really? really? you’re so swept up by the characters, and the way they fight with each other, laugh and rile each other, and do terribly stupid (but believable) things that you kind of don’t mind. You ignore that small corner of your brain and lose yourself to first rate escapist romance with incredibly well imagined and well portrayed protagonists that you thoroughly like (no small feat considering some of their stupid, almost self-destructively dumb decisions at times). The book is well plotted, wonderfully written, and like I said, Thomas seems to be purposefully choosing cliches that she knows she can reinvent in creative and engaging ways.
The only small quibble I have with this book is the sex scenes. I expect my sensual historical romances to have a certain number of sex scenes, but these aren’t great sex scenes: they’re not bad, but they’re not great — the language is a little hard-edged and the dialogue the protagonists exchange is borderline awkward at times.
Honestly though, that’s a small quibble in a book that is otherwise very well worth the read.
Comparisons to Other Books:
I’ve never liked or understood why other people like Sherry Thomas. I read His at Night and gave it 2.5 stars because it was interesting, creative and well-written… but I actually hated the main characters and couldn’t get into the main love story at all. I read Not Quite a Husband and had the same reaction (in my defense, in that book, the husband is having sex/half raping his wife while she sleeps). Thomas has won awards, and been hailed as the romance writer to follow: I’ve never understood it… until now. Her plots are creative and well-planned, her sex scenes (asleep sex??) have always been awkward, and her characters too hard-edged for me, but this one is well worth the read. Finally, I understand what all the hype is about!