There’s something about this book that has never worked for me. This is the third time I’ve read it from beginning to finish since it came out, and I’ve never been able to put my finger on why I don’t like it as much as I like her other books.
Devlin St. Just has just been created the first Earl of Rosecroft, taking over the estate of the villain from the The Heir, Anna’s brother whom Devlin killed in order to save her. He travels to the estate in Yorkshire where it has been neglected where he finds that the brother, once the earl of Helmsley, left behind an illegitimate daughter who is nominally in the care of a cousin, Emmaline Farnum. Emmie grew up as an illegitimate child left in the care of her aunt who was Helmsley’s mistress and Bronwyn’s mother. Devlin takes Bronwyn (Winnie) under his care and brings Emmie to stay at the estate to serve as her governess.
I think honestly the book collapses under its own weight. Devlin is suffering from what we would call PTSD today, but obviously not as well understood in Regency Britain. This is probably the best part of the book and one of my favorite things about Grace Burrowes’ writing is that she lets her heroes be emotional and vulnerable with each other. Toxic masculinity doesn’t play a role in her books.
But the problem is probably Emmaline. There’s a lot to like about Emmie. She’s incredibly generous and empathetic. She’s known real tragedy and pain in her life which allows her to be the person that Devlin desperately needs at this point in his life. She’s unselfish almost to her own destruction.
But there’s a piece of her story that simply fails for me and I’ll have to get it into specifically in the spoiler section. Suffice to say, she keeps a secret from Devlin that the author also keeps from the reader and I hate it. Because it requires Emmie to lie to Devlin, but in a few spots, Burrowes even lies to me as a reader. I mean, the secret is almost obvious which is why it’s ridiculous that the reader isn’t brought in earlier.
The supporting cast is pretty good—Douglas and Valentine play large roles here in Devlin’s recovery. I don’t entirely buy the depth and strength of Douglas and Devlin’s friendship but I enjoy it so much that it doesn’t bother me. Winnie is also very sweet, and thus far, Burrowes has avoided a lot of tropes of cute children in romance novels. The Windhams show up briefly, but not for long. The local vicar, Hadrian, will return in a later Lonely Lords book and shows up well.
Ultimately, this book fails for me because I can’t ever quite sympathize fully with Emmie. While the romance is well-developed, I am increasingly frustrated by Emmie and her ridiculous secret. The book is well-written and others will probably like it fine.
Winnie ends up being Emmie’s child. This is literally not hinted at until Devlin says it straight out near the end of the book. Early in the book, Devlin asks Emmie if Helmsley trifled with her, and Emmie says no. Later, Hadrian proposes to Emmie who tears herself apart over leaving Winnie. At some point, I as the reader needed to know this. Because I’m not told, I don’t ever get into Emmie’s thoughts. Not really. I don’t ever truly understand why she won’t marry Devlin, and in fact I’m not sure at all why she’d consider Hadrian and not Devlin.
Emmie becomes a martyr who plans to remove herself from Winnie’s life, but I’m left to think it’s because she has a bad reputation that she doesn’t want to reflect badly on Winnie. I get the time period, I get her reasons — but I only get them in hindsight. In a romance novel, I expect to be in the POVs of my leads. Not telling me about Winnie until Devlin literally reveals it means part of Emmie’s POV is kept from me and I hate that so much.
There’s a book by Julia Quinn that I almost set on fire for this reason, The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy. The hero traps the heroine into marriage for reasons that we are not told until the heroine learns the truth — which means for half the book, I know my hero is a giant fucking asshole and by the time I know why, I don’t care anymore.
Because the reader doesn’t know the relationship between Emmie and Winnie, we also don’t get a clear look at her own childhood and history with Helmsley. I’m still not clear on it after three times through this book. I don’t mind when my characters keep secrets. I mind when they keep the secrets from me. I’m the one who matters.
Overall There’s something about this book that has never worked for me. This is the third time I’ve read it from beginning to finish since it came out, and I’ve never been able to put my ...