It took me a long time to decide on a rating for this book. I wanted to give it a 5 and a 4 and a 3, which made choosing the closest `half' star a whole lot harder.
My friends who read this book absolutely loved it and while I had a great time reading it, it just didn't enchant me. I think that was one of the reasons I ended up giving it a 3.5, I expected so much from this book and while I got it, the book didn't captivate me.
The strongest points of this book for me were the characters and the romance. Novak did a wonderful job developing both.
Lord Druridge lost his wife in a fire. He wasn't particularly heartbroken about that because there was no lost love between them, she had lived to make his life hell even going as far as to go get pregnant with someone else's child and calling it his. Because of this the majority of people believe that he was the one who started the fire that killed his wife. Even though he doesn't remember what happened that night, he is pretty sure that that isn't true but if he doesn't prove it, he will be punished for a crime he didn't commit.
I loved how the author didn't try to pretty up his character. He owned a mining company and he didn't really go out of his way to be nice to them. In fact for the most part they barely registered on his radar, because yes he was above them in status so he didn't really have to care about them. That doesn't mean he is dense and perceives himself to be the center of the universe. He just realizes that he is from a completely different world from them. He was raised to value honor and duty and he remains true to that for most part of the book. He isn't a perfect character and he isn't meant to be. He is human, he feels pain, anger and betrayal just like everyone else but he is also strong. He despairs but never lets it bring him to his knees and he fights because if he doesn't have faith the real criminal will get away.
Rachel has lost most of her family over the course of the last couple of years until all she has left is her brother. It's up to her to take care of her brother now as well as manage the bookstore her family has been running for the past couple of years. She despises the Earl because of what he stands for, her brother died while working for the mines and her father lost his job because of him. She doesn't want to have anything to do with him but because he owns the lease to both the bookstore and the house she cannot just ignore him. It isn't until her mother is at her deathbed that she gives in and offers up the information she had but her mother ends up dying anyway.
Rachel has tons of pride and doesn't want help from anyone, especially the Earl. She is willing to starve and work in the mines to feed her little brother but the thing about her is that while this may sound like a bad quality, it works for her, life has made her how she is. Her life wasn't a fairy tale, it was pretty tough. But even with all her pride, Rachel is not stupid. She knows when it's time to let go of her pride and accept help. The only thing that bothered me about her character was how in the beginning she was set aside from all the other women because she liked to read and didn't want to get married. She was speshul flower because she liked to read. Half the female leads in historical romance say the same thing but it bothered me so much more in this case because Rachel was already set aside from the rest of the women in this genre by a factor of things. The fact that the author chose to emphasize the fact that she read and wasn't really going out of her way to get married disappointed me. Aside from that `minor' issue I enjoyed Rachel's character as well. She was a strong female lead who's life did not revolve around the guy she was in love with.
The secondary characters are pretty well developed too. My favorite, Penelope, makes an appearance right in the end. I thought her addition was pretty interesting although I am confused as to why that was necessary.
The romance though was my favorite thing about this book. It was just so realistic. What I loved most about it was that the forbiddeness of their relationship wasn't romanticized. It was an obstacle. They are worlds apart, they won't be accepted as a couple. They are likely to be shunned, in fact Rachel was already shunned. At first there was some insta-attraction which bothered the hell out of me but I tried to be rational and realized that it's alright for people to be attracted to each other right off the bat even if it pisses me off. Aside from that Novak spends such a great deal of time developing the romance. It slowly buds into something beautiful. Truman and Rachel are always supportive of one another but even with all that they realize that they realize that because of their different upbringings their priorities will always be different.
Speaking of relationships, I was pretty disappointed that Novak didn't really develop Rachel's relationship with her brother; I was kind of looking forward to it but as it is her brother was barely there, even when she was the earl's `mistress' her brother was out sleeping in the stables.
The plot seems to take a backseat to everything else going on in the book. Before I say anything else I'd like to say that Brenda does a wonderful job developing suspense, she does it so well that I found myself questioning even Truman but in the end when you find out who the actual criminal was, it was all very anti-climactic. The criminal's identity seemed pretty obvious but the reasoning behind the whole incident seemed so weak. The actual mystery fell pretty flat too, there didn't seem to be a lot going on until the very end. I feel like Novak could have made the plot a whole lot stronger and more enjoyable.
In the end though, this book was extremely refreshing, it's so different from the other historical romances out there. I'd definitely recommend this to fans of historical romances and I'd even go as far to say that those of you vary of HR's, give this a shot.