Skeptic scale: ♥♥♥♥♥
Read at your own risk!! You WILL be reduced to a whimpering pile of longing - as I was when I first read it.
ST wasn't writing a book here. She was writing a beautiful poem about a couple of pining, aching hearts kept apart by pride and tragic misunderstanding. Suck it, Romeo and Juliet! Believe me, if I had known that I would never have even begun this book because I usually hate pining, aching hearts - always comes across as cheesy and unbelievable to me. But ST grabbed me by the back of the neck and forced me to LOOK. And once I did, I just couldn't look away because within about 10 pages it was me pining and aching. Oh, shivers.
She: One of the most compelling historical heroines I have ever come across in a romance novel. The book is set in the 1890s - much after the Regency period and just around the time of "modern" Britain. Women's roles had already begun to change and this heroine was very much part of the new vanguard of modern working women. She is a physician, and she is passionate (to the point of obsessed) about her career. I thought highly of her for her accomplishments even as I felt slightly put off by her reserve and unapproachable demeanor. She wasn't exactly a lovable h, but she was an amazing woman.
He: For the first time, I saw a truly modern man in a historical romance and my heart just became a glob of hot, melty marshmallow goo in my chest. It has barely reconstituted itself after all these days so revisiting this book is putting me in grave danger of losing my sh!t all over again.
So... modern men. Authors will often write about a hero who is ahead of his times, how he doesn't try to squelch the heroine's spirit, how he respects her brain etc etc even when Society tries to crush her. But sometimes those heroes seem to be guys who are surprised by a woman's accomplishments and then learn to "accept" the lady for her uniqueness in spite of how unusual those accomplishments make her. This guy yearned for this woman because she was amazing - capable, heroic in her own right. He looked up to her. He wanted to be near her and to be with her, and was grateful that she chose him. And all this didn't detract from his alpha-ness. No sir! Alpha plus, my good man!
Conflict: Obviously, as you've seen from my description above, there was a great deal of longing, yearning, aching and so forth. What keeps these two apart is a terrible mistake the hero makes and the pride of the heroine that she doesn't confront him about it at the outset. Instead, she lets the wound fester until they develop a terrible, seemingly insurmountable chasm between them. The story is about how they try to mend that huge divide.
I'm going to write out some of my favorite lines from the book. There will be spoilers, so don't read on if you don't like reading bits from books ahead of time. ST is just such a beautiful writer, I wanted to make notes for myself so I can come back to them and feel all mopey again.
"Then one noticed the bleakness behind her green eyes, as if she were a nun on the verge of losing her faith"
"You were the moon of my existence; your moods dictated the tides of my heart"
(This is cheesy-squeezy out of context. IN context, you will lose your mind, trust me)
"Curiously enough she had no aspirations at all concerning him. A drunk did not expect the bottle to love him back"
"Her heart slammed like an unsecured shutter in a windstorm"
"...millions of stars shone, a diamond heist gone awry."
"Her blue-black hair spread like the cape of Erebus"
"Even your love had such sharp corners and dark alleys"
"He did not look like an archangel - if archangels looked as he did, there would be no woman of virtue left in Paradise."
Poetry, am I right!? There are too many more. I think I am just going to re-read this and risk the melted marshmallow glob heart failure thing again.