4 out of 5 stars
Cut to the Chase:
This is a great lovers-reunited tale. They were almost-lovers as young adults, were separated, and are now related, amidst many misunderstandings and (in their eyes) larger-than-life obstacles. There are some parts where you get a little frustrated; there are moments of: come on already, just tell them the truth! But still, Kleypas is a talented writer, and this is a believably moving lovers-reunited tale. What’s more, because you see the beginning of their relationship, and then pick up right where they left off, after the time jump, you don’t feel like you’ve missed any of the real love story. The cast of side characters is well developed (almost too-well developed, more on that later), the writing is crisp and clear, and the characters really draw you in… a solid read!
As the daughter of the powerful (and dastardly) Earl of Westcliff, Lady Aline is expected to do one thing: marry well. Yet she falls in love John McKenna, a stable boy, when they are both quite young. Though they’ve declared their love for one another, they are soon discovered. The earl demands that they be separated, fires McKenna and then tells Aline that she must convince McKenna to never come back, that he’ll destroy McKenna if he ever sees the boy again.
So (of course) Aline tells McKenna that none of what they shared meant anything to her, that she was just having a little fun, and that she could never love an uneducated, low class, etc, etc.
McKenna leaves, crushed. With some help from the housekeeper, who loans him five pounds, he buys himself passage to America, to make his fortune. Meanwhile, there’s a horrible accident in the kitchen one day, and Aline is horribly injured and scarred.
Twelve years pass.
So… my main problem with this book is that tension between the two is built on two things: a sacrificial lie (by Aline) and a fear of rejection (Aline, being scared about how McKenna might react to her scar). Since Aline’s father, the original earl, has already passed away, there’s no longer any outside pressure keeping them apart, and these two remaining tensions/misunderstandings could easily be solved. Which means that we’re left with a lot of time where the audience is thinking — just tell each other the truth already!!!
Now, there are a lot of interesting side characters: Mrs. Faircloth, the housekeep who’s faithful to both for them, Lord Sandridge, the homosexual friend who uses his friendship with Lady Aline to divert other gossip, and of course, the side romance between Gideon Shaw (an almost recovering alcoholic American businessman) and Lady Livia (the earl’s other daughter).
Whereas other Kleypas novels have side characters that fill out the cast, here they’re almost buttresses, supporting the main conflict, which doesn’t always feel naturally conflict-y enough to carry an entire novel.
Still, this s a good, enjoyable read, though a little on the darker/brooding side because of their star-crossed-ness.
Comparisons to Other Authors:
Lisa Kleypas is a best-selling author, and though she has focused more recently on modern romance, she is one of the queens of the historical romance genre. Compared to Stephanie Laurens, Kleypas tends to have more individualized characters, and a better supporting cast, but less sensual/erotic love scenes. Compared to Courtney Milan, another person whose individual plots are really different, Kleypas focuses far more on having an entire cast, as opposed to keeping the camera lens on the main two. She’s also great at exploring a particular topic or setting – some of her books happen in gambling clubs, others in the theatre, and others feature protagonists who are deeply aware of social/political issues, helping to really establish you in the setting/time period in a way that not all historical romance authors can. She’s less funny and her characters and scenarios are less light-hearted than Julia Quinn’s, but her characters tend to have a greater degree of physical attraction/sensuality compared to Quinn’s.