Format: eARC from author
Length: 459 pages
Publisher: Jenn LeBlanc (April 8, 2014)
Happiness was always too much for Lady Amelia to hope for. Now all she expects is to secure her future and marry Charles, Duke of Castleberry, as arranged. But Amelia has a dangerous secret that could not only destroy her in Charles's eyes and the eyes of society, but could also very well condemn her to Bedlam.
Baron Endsleigh, Amelia’s oldest friend, has other ideas. Ender has loved Amelia all his life. He knows her secrets, and they don’t frighten him. He plans to come between Amelia and Charles in any way he can to prevent the marriage and finally claim Amelia for his own. Though her father forbade the match years ago, Ender is determined to have her as his wife and nothing can stop him. Not even a duke as powerful as Castleberry.
That duke has hated Baron Endsleigh and wanted Amelia for, what seems to him, forever. Charles will stop at nothing to make her his, and his alone, even if that means destroying the one thing he knows she loves most in this world—Endsleigh.
Will Amelia be able to choose when one man speaks to her head and the other her heart?
None of them will find happiness until they all three learn to embrace absolute surrender.
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I really wanted to love this book. I love historical romances, and I have a thing for menage romances. I'm actually more picky about the former than the latter--I can forgive some historical inaccuracies, but if a menage isn't written in what I would call a balanced manner, I tend to walk away feeling slightly dissatisfied. For me, that was part of the problem with this book, as well a a couple of other issues I came across.
For me, reading this book was an exercise in confusion. Some of the prose didn't flow very well; it wasn't that the word choices didn't make sense, but more that the construction from the ground up was a bit muddled at times. The thought patterns of the characters did not come off as clear: for Amelia, I could have taken this as a quirk of whatever mysterious malady she suffered. But for Louisa, Hugh, and Charles, I still often found myself staring at certain passages wondering what I'd just read. What the meaning of it might be. It wasn't that the prose felt unedited; the entire book is well put together and the flow, for the most part, is good (and the pictures are GORGEOUS). But the construction almost reads like a translation of a translation, in some areas. Basically, certain portions confused me and required me to stop and think about what the author was trying to say, which drew me out of the story.
Another point of contention I had with this book was that Amelia's illness is never named. I understand that this is a historical, and so often the conditions we know by name--especially the mental illnesses--aren't as understood and perhaps don't have a name. BUT. Amelia's condition is integral to the story. It is the force that propels her, Charles, and Hugh down the path that they traverse. For it to be unnamed, and so mysterious...the reader is not really granted a clear explanation as to what happens to Amelia. A lot of this, I suppose, is meant to illustrate how Charles has been left in the dark. But Hugh, Amelia, and Louisa are all well aware of what Amelia's episodes look like, so for the reader to be given so little information was frustrating. The details we did get still left me baffled by what condition she suffered from (panic attacks? Severe anxiety? Some form of epilepsy?) and this left me vaguely annoyed.
And finally we get to my final beef with this book: Hugh. Not that I didn't like him. The exact opposite. I adored Hugh so much. I wanted to pull him off of the page and hug him tightly. His adoration and steadfast love of Amelia was obvious from the word go, and his interactions with her were often my favorite. What I'm about to get into involves spoilers, so be warned!
In order for Charles and Amelia to be together (as their father's arranged), Hugh has to be present. Otherwise Amelia has an episode. Anything physical with her and Charles sends her into a blackout, or she starts screaming (again, her episodes are never really explained so I was confused why she would sometimes start screeching and other times just pass out). But Hugh has been her friend since childhood and he knows how to handle the episodes, so in order for Charles and Amelia to be together as man and wife, Hugh literally has to be in the bed with them. The story follows how they all three discover their love for one another, but through the first 80% of the book, their treatment of Hugh left a bad taste in my mouth. They use him in order to be close, and he is often an afterthought, if he's noticed at all. The focus is entirely between Amelia and Charles, so when Hugh leaves (brokenhearted, because he loves Amelia but is sure that eventually the two of them will break with him), I wasn't at all surprised. My heart went out to him. His departure was painted as a betrayal ("how dare he leave when he knows Amelia can't bear Charles' touch without him") but I couldn't blame him. He was trying to protect his heart, when neither Amelia nor Charles had done very much to reassure him of his place, with them or in Amelia's heart.
And in the end, after all was said and done...I still didn't feel like Amelia's regard for Hugh matched her love for Charles. It felt secondary, like an afterthought, and so the entire menage felt unbalanced.
Though I did love Louisa's surprise at the end. That earned this book a few points. And again, the pictures that go along with the story? Marvelously constructed and beautiful.
"And...and you still love me?"
Charles stilled. Was love often so easily bestowed then taken away?