A man seeking a wife gets more than he bargained for in this Victorian romance.
Justin Thornhill has been physically and emotionally scarred by his past. Looking toward the future, he needs a wife to help run his newly acquired household, and he has little interest in an emotional investment. His staff places an advertisement to locate a companion for the gruff British ex-solider, preferably a sturdy widow or similar candidate. Instead, the leading applicant is Helena Reynolds, a young woman of good breeding and great beauty who is in desperate need of a husband. Justin is an excellent hero, with just the right amount of brooding intensity. Helena is a woman of intelligence and kindness who is predictably unaware of her own allure. Readers would hate her if they didn’t like her so much. The couple marry quickly, and while Helena dreams of a peaceful and hidden existence at Justin’s cold and drafty English estate on a remote coast in Devon, fate has other plans. Justin’s protective instincts shift into overdrive as it becomes apparent that Helena is being hunted by her fortune-seeking uncle and his dastardly henchmen. The newlyweds must return to London and fight against her uncle’s accusations of insanity and his threats of an annulment. It’s not surprising when the couple begin to realize that their practical agreement may be a marriage of true love. Matthews’ (The Pug Who Bit Napoleon, 2018, etc.) series opener is a guilty pleasure, brimming with beautiful people, damsels in distress, and an abundance of testosterone. Despite its numerous clichés, it’s a well-written and engaging story that’s more than just a romance. The author chooses to draw on dark moments in British history to create Justin’s and Helena’s complicated pasts: the rampant abuse in the operation of private asylums in the Victorian era and the Indian Rebellion of 1857. It’s an unexpected narrative addition that works well, as Matthews seamlessly blends some grim history with light and frothy fiction.
An enjoyable love story that dares to dip a toe into bleak social and political history.