Every good novelist will testify that the main ingredients in a story are always the same: good characters, a workable plot, and a crisis that brings the story to its most intense point. Almost always that crisis will rest on a bed of dishonesty or secrecy. It never fails to amaze me how many people fear opening up their hearts, their histories, their deepest feelings, always recognizing that most of us have come through some turbulent times relationally and thus, we protect ourselves. Yet, keeping secrets can often be far more destructive than most people anticipate.
It is no secret that this novel involves some fairly hefty secrets—both the hero and the heroine are awash with realities about themselves that are hidden and hidden for a bunch of good reasons. There is no doubt that given the times—the pre-Napoleonic period of European history—and understanding the social norms and rules of male/female interaction, these two characters felt they had viable reasons for partitioning off their lives into the “public” section and the “private” section. No doubt we all do that as most of us are fairly cautious about letting the casual acquaintances we know to have entre into the private sectors of our inner selves. But these two characters have lots that goes waaaaaay back in family history and both find themselves mired in emotions that seemingly have no way of becoming permanent.
Lady Sophia was, for all intent and purpose, a square peg in a round hole. I was almost expecting that the reader would find out she was adopted. She was so out of sync with her family, their expectations of her, their view of how she should behave and fit into the aristocratic social circles that were so important to her parents. Yet this young lady wrecked havoc from her earliest years and all that came to a head when she eloped with a charming and persuasive military retiree who turned out to be far less of an honorable man than Sophia thought. Now she is alone, making her way as best she can, using her considerable card-playing skills to eek out a living, always hoping that in some way and at some future time she could be restored to her family's good graces. The further I got into the novel the more I became convinced that 1) she really didn't believe in the deepest parts of herself that such would ever become reality, and 2) she wasn't really sure she could survive that kind of “death” to who she was.
Dominic, on the other hand, was a man who was very comfortable with himself and his family, with his chosen profession in the theater and as part owner of a gambling club. He was a man who functioned well and was more than pleased to finally find Sophia—a woman who he had met and who had claimed his attention to such an extent that for two years following their one stolen kiss he couldn't forget her. What she didn't know about him was that their families had long nurtured a deep antagonism toward one another based on a “legend” that was more than two hundred years old and which fueled their anger toward one another. Sophia had no idea that she had stumbled onto the one man who could cause her heart to race, her blood to heat, and who had stolen her heart before she even knew it was gone—the one man who would do anything to destroy the family she loved even though they didn't appear to love her in return.
It's easy to see that these two certainly didn't have any kind of easy future together if, in fact, they had any future at all. Yet this book is about the power of attraction, the discomfort of struggling with feelings that made no sense in the face of the ancient angers between their two families. Yet it seems that the sexual chemistry was so strong, the attraction so magnetic, that Sophia and Dominic had little hope of resisting. What they were going to do in the long haul remained to be seen.
This novel is beautifully crafted and Sophia and Dominic's story is couched in the context of an ancient diary, a journal written by the woman whose experience lay at the heart of the old animosity. The reader is aware of all the stresses, the pushes and the pulls that make up their situation, aware that they were either destined to be together or doomed to break each other's hearts. The flow of the story was such that the reader moves seamlessly from scene to scene, with the author laying out the facets of the story with a deft hand. As with all good novels, there's also the “bad guy” who has determined that Sophia will be his, and his determination to take her hostage to his plans and desires become more and more cruel and destructive. So all in all, there's lots going on in this book, lots that will hold the interest and imagination of the reader captive so that most readers, like me, will be sorry the story ends.
I read a lot of books and like most of them. But once in awhile one comes along that really piques my interest beyond the others. This novel is one of those. I can't say it's my most favorite novel ever. But it was a truly enjoyable and satisfying reading experience, one I accomplished in one sitting. It's one I just didn't put down until the final page. It's a book that deserves to be read and appreciated and I hope that those who like historical romance will come to enjoy it as much as I did.
I give it a rating of 4.25 out of 5.