Astrid Everleigh is considered "ruined" due to a tragic incident that happened about ten years ago. Her sister, however, is of marriageable age, and when she finds out that her greedy, horrible aunt and uncle are planning on marrying her off to the same man who ruined her own future, she decides to take matters into her own hands. To protect her sister, she will ally herself with the one eligible man in the area capable of standing up to the evil Earl: the Duke of Beswick.
After being grievously wounded and scarred in what I believe were the Napoleonic Wars, Thane Harte has been wallowing in self-seclusion, playing cricket with priceless pottery and generally terrorizing his servants. When Astrid approaches him, he's completely taken off guard-- not just by the fact that she doesn't fear him, but by his attraction to her, as well.
So let's talk about why this book was awesome.
🌹 The strong heroine! I loved Astrid so much. I felt like the author did such a great job espousing her with feminist principles without being anachronistic. She was so compelling and true to herself and her morals and I really loved her for it. It was easy to see why Thane did, too. Especially her wicked sense of humor and her ability to back-talk the Duke whenever he was being a jerk.
🌹 The secondary characters! For me, a romance novel ends up being so much stronger if it has a good cast of secondary characters. I loved Thane's lascivious footman-chasing aunt (what a QUEEN) and all of his staff. The relationship between Astrid and Isobel (the sister in question) was also really loving and sweet. Especially how their relationship ended up shifting at the end, becoming more equal.
🌹 Spicy sex scenes! There were actually way more than I was anticipating, tbh! I would classify this as an erotic romance, so if that is something you love, I think you'll really enjoy this-- especially since all of the scenes are very sensual and well written. Sometimes books can make me cringe a little but not this one! There's a fantastic scene involving a door in a study that is just 🔥🔥🔥
🌹 So many emotions! I need my romances to have real emotional stakes so all of the angsting and pining and tragic backstories REALLY worked for me. It grounded the romance and gave it depth and urgency, which I really liked. Both the hero and the heroine had things they needed from each other, which made it feel MUCH less unequal than the original fairytale, which brings me to...
🌹 Marriage of convenience! Something about an arranged marriage or a marriage of convenience really appeals to me. Maybe it's because usually a book ends with marriage as part of the HEA, so when two virtual strangers marry and have to forge an emotional connection with one each other and fall in love, it feels more like a partnership and less like insta-love?? Whatever it is, it's my kryptonite.
I wasn't really sure what to rate this but ultimately I'm going to go with a 4 to 4.5. It was so, so, so close to being perfect, but the pacing was just a little off. Halfway through the book, it already felt like it was wrapping up, so the plot felt a tiny bit stretched out. Not that I'm complaining hugely. It was padded with some great sex scenes and excellent banter, and considering that this was her debut in the HR genre (I think she mostly wrote YA before this), I'd say that Amalie Howard comes out way ahead of even more seasoned authors who've been doing this for years. What a fantastic experiment.
4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars