At the age of two and twenty, Julia St. Claire is headed firmly and happily for the shelf. For years, she has watched her older sister pine for a man who barely acknowledges her. Determined to guard her heart against that sort of pain, Julia seeks nothing more than a civilized, sensible union. Then just such an arrangement is offered-by the man of her sister’s dreams- and Julia must choose: betray her sister or turn to her childhood friend, Benedict at the risk of opening her heart. Benedict Revelstoke has resigned his commission and returned to the social whirl of the ton, expecting to pick up his life where he left it: attending his club, gambling, and secretly loving Julia St. Claire. When he learns a rake has made her betrothal and reputation the object of a wager, he seeks to warn her. But when he betrays his feelings before the reticent Julia, he fears he has lost their longtime friendship-until she turns up at his townhouse with a scandalous proposal.
This is a very promising début from Ashlyn Macnamara. The writing and pacing were both good and there were none of those credulity-stretching moments that seem to have marred so many of the newer historical romances I’ve read recently.
I was pleased to discover that this book features not just one, but two of my favourite tropes in romantic fiction – forced marriage and ‘friends-become-lovers’. I should say at this point though that the ‘blurb’ is rather misleading in that one could be forgiven for thinking the story is about Julia St. Clare and her childhood friend Benedict Revelstoke. In fact, the book features two parallel stories – one featuring Julia and Benedict and the other, her older sister Sophia and Rufus, Earl of Highgate, and I would venture to say that this fact marks the book out as something a little bit different.
Both stories are given equal prominence which, on the plus side, means that the pace never slackens. The negative side however is that it doesn’t allow for a great deal of character and relationship development, and I know that some reviewers have said that they found the four different points-of-view to be distracting.
For me, the latter wasn’t a problem, but I did have some issues with the lack of depth in terms of the characterisation. I would have liked, for example, for Benedict’s awareness of his true feelings for Julia to have happened more slowly, over time, so that the reader could share in his gradual awakening. I also thought that the reason for Julia’s reluctance to love was somewhat flimsy and, in fact, unnecessary, given what she was seeing every day in her parents’ marriage.
I felt that Highgate was probably the most rounded character, even though we probably see less of him than of the other three protagonists. But there’s something about a wounded man with a bit of a murky past, isn’t there? I also found his romance with Sophia to be the more satisfying one in the end, although that’s not to say I didn’t like Julia and Benedict’s story as well.
Overall then, this is an engaging read with likeable characters (and a few not-so-likeable ones!) and a couple of well-executed storylines. The love scenes were romantic and sexy and the author did a good job in building the sexual tension between the ladies and their beaus.
If you’re looking for a new voice in historical romance, I would definitely recommend giving this book a try, and on the strength of this, I will certainly be on the lookout for future titles from this author.
With thanks to Ballantine Books and Edelweiss for the review copy.