I read very few historical romances in general but this debut might just be one of my top favorites in the genre, and I’m so glad and delighted that I didn’t ignore it when it came onto my radar.
This book takes place in late 19th century Britain set against the backdrop of the suffragists movement and I absolutely loved it. The way the author was able to show us the struggles of all the women who wanted to fight for freedom of women (particularly the amendment of the Married Women’s Act) is just brilliant and I can’t believe this is a debut. The politics of the Tory Party and the Queen herself, how powerful people want to quash the movement and how those in the aristocracy view the common folk is shown with amazing clarity and I loved that the author never pulled her punches. The beautiful locations of Oxford are also described very well but also contrasted with how the facilities for female students were completely different/ very discriminatory when compared with those of their male counterparts.
The plot was also a lot of fun and entertaining to read and I just didn’t wanna put it down at all, not even to sleep. The slow burn romance is extremely passionate and the attraction between the two main characters just sizzled right from their first meeting. And what an explosive (not) meet-cute that was… just the idea is so ingenious. There is a strong push and pull between the MCs, a possibility of a scandalous romance and reputations at stake – the author manages to capture all these emotions extremely well and I could feel every moment of it. And while I was pretty worried how these two stubborn people from very different stations in life would ever agree to be together, the author brought about quite a flashy ending. While it didn’t feel entirely realistic, I thoroughly enjoyed it and wouldn’t have been satisfied with anything else.
Annabelle is a commoner with very low prospects but high intellect, not the most admirable quality needed for a woman during those times. Her yearning to be educated at Oxford, and belief about the need for the woman’s right to vote is presented wonderfully. She could be a bit impulsive but I guess her actions weren’t always unwarranted. Sebastian on the other hand is the Duke of one of the largest holdings in the country, a shrewd political advisor and someone who never does anything that could be construed as inappropriate for his station. He comes across as arrogant and cold in the beginning, but behind the perfect facade is a great and passionate mind in need of a challenge.
Sparks fly between them since the very beginning and it was highly entertaining to watch their interactions play out. Even when they are arguing or flirting, the conversations range from politics and philosophy to reasoning and logic, and I particularly loved this way of developing a relationship. They also exchange witty exchanges through notes and books and I found it personally very swoony. And despite all this fun I had wondering how and when they would get together, it also made me cry when they tried to hold off on their feelings because of the forbidden nature of their relationship. The author managed to twist my heart so many times, making me all kinds of emotional and I obviously loved feeling that way.
Though this is a romance novel, the author also takes time to develop the other important side characters, and I thought it was done perfectly. Hattie, Lucie and Catriona, all women whom Annabelle meets at Oxford and who are fighting for the same cause, quickly become friends and confidants despite being from varied backgrounds and it was very endearing to read about this group. And it was actually fantastic that the author managed to give each of these ladies their own purpose and motivation in life, while also striving for a common goal. The other important character was Sebastian’s brother Peregrin who is present for a very short time, but in quite a significant role. Their sibling relationship was pretty fraught but I liked that we get some sort of resolution to their issues. I’m in love with everyone here and I can’t wait to see them all again.
To conclude, I just wanna say that this book was fun, sexy, witty and intelligent and I had a gala time reading it. If you love historical romances with a dash of feminism, then I promise you can’t go wrong with this debut. It has equal parts passionate romance and political commentary about the plight of women, and the author strikes a perfect balance between the two. I’m very very happy that this is going to be a series and after that little snippet towards the end, I’m doubly excited to read Lady Lucie’s story next.