Louise Allen has long headed my Top 10 Best Romantic Authors list, for the consistent excellence of her writing, the creation of realistic characters in all of their quirkiness (whom you come to love, or at the very least, to understand), and her bias toward deep intelligence, wicked humor, & compassionate integrity. She really puts us as readers in touch with our own humanity.
For me, this story was nearly a condensation of all that's best about reading a Louise Allen novel.
Here we have an intriguing setup to pitch the story and the romance itself into immediate high gear. (The plot details can be read elsewhere; this is simply my response to the reading experience.)
For their own reasons, each of the two main characters is refreshingly open & honest with the other --- which, of course, provides a principal pillar of intimacy that will quickly add an important extra dimension to the thrillingly sensual romance already underway from nearly the beginning of the book. (Sidenote: as a reader, I appreciated the economy of building sexual tension organically into the storyline from the get-go, rather than having to wait until the 35% or 40% point to have artificially built up enough time & tension to get into some romantic action.)
But back to the story: our hero is an English officer & nobleman freshly returned from years of the horrors of war, ending in the meatgrinder that was Waterloo. Like many a veteran, his experiences have stripped his priorities down to the essentials and taught him efficiency in dealing with life & its relationships & obstacles. Add to that a naturally sunny disposition now tempered with compassion for the human condition, a sharp & well-ordered mind, and a background as the big brother to a housefull of sisters --- necessitating the development of seriously patient listening skills --- and you get the type of man who doesn't waste time calling a spade anything other than a spade. And who actually LISTENS. To men AND to women. And then THINKS about it. And then RESPONDS! ....... All conditions devoutly to be wished for, in a romantic tale, no? Oh, sure, he's also a gorgeous hunk with a great sense of humor, plenty of masculine boldness, wealth & a title, yadah yadah yadah, but here's the big deal: He TELLS THE TRUTH, as he sees it, to the heroine, his lover.
Now, how many times do you run into THAT in this genre? The heroine is also a delightfully open and candid person, but for completely different reasons: she is, as our story opens, at a major turning point in her development from life as a nonperson (a gentlewoman ignored as a child and raised as a pawn to be traded off for political gain by her family to the dullest titled human on the planet --- a man whose only interest in life had been drains) into becoming, after her freeing widowhood, a wealthy, independent woman finally able to express her own thoughts without having to echo others' or account for them --- or for her actions --- to oppressive mores, people, or institutions that formerly held all the power that defined every boundary in her life.
In her case, she's a bright lady with an inborn sense of mischief that immediately translates to a wicked wit when the lid is lifted from the pot. Well-educated but bereft of any real life experience, she is an innocent who has plenty of opinions & insights that she has simply never had any reason to share with anyone, since no one in her life has ever given her the impression that they might value her thoughts or ideas. Thus, she is quite ripe for candid, adult communication....of every type. (;
Of course, our heroine has all of the usual attributes required in this genre: beauty, charm, intelligence, feistiness, wicked wit, yadah yadah yadah, but there is a softness, an inherent sweetness to her that is rarely set so starkly in companionship with the fiercely logical mental processes that guide her speech & actions throughout.
Granted, her transformation from sheltered youth to precocious, rebellious, sometimes selfish & thoughtless teenager (figurately speaking) during the bulk of this story, to fully matured adult with the finely-tuned sense of responsibility to herself & others that necessarily underlies true independence, pretty much dictates that the heroine is going to be the designated cork in the bottleneck of progress when the romance hits the obligatory obstacle before all is resolved.
Nevertheless, be assured that this story has a much higher quotient of intelligence, common sense, wit, sensual sex play, and just plain sweetness, than the usual historical romance.
Just read it; it'll put a smile on your face and a tingle in your tummy.