I think Ms. Burrowes is a superb writer so it pains my to say how incredibly bored I was by this book. Usually, I cannot WAIT to take myself and my book to a quiet place where I can read in peace, but I found that I actually avoided opening my kindle because I knew I had to finish this thing and it was just too dull a prospect to bear. Sigh...
Anyway, now that I have finished it, let me explain why I was so underwhelmed. But first, a short summary.
He: A knight who has come back from fighting the war (bravely and honorably) with a limp. He isn't from a grand family, and only became knighted because of his performance in the war. In fact, he was so impressive he is endorsed by the great man himself - Wellington. Oh, and he's in line for a "proper" title of Baron but he really doesn't want it.
He has some secrets. Lots of illegitimate children that he has fostered. There is some attempt to make it seem like they are actually his bastards but that was SUCH a weak attempt at mystery that I won't even bother to keep the spoiler a secret. Because you'll see through it anyway in half a second if you do read this. Anyway, he's a decent, honorable chap who reads poetry to his pig and has long rambling chats with his horse.
She: Daughter of a powerful duke who is just bored. With everything - society, her life, her routine. She's supposed to be quite a polymath - poet, mathematician, strategy expert, bruising horsewoman and excellent dancer. She's beautiful and kind and everything genteel and proper. With a hidden passion, that he uncovers, of course.
She's got this terrible secret, that if exposed, will destroy her reputation so she stays away from men in general.
What was nice:
1) The writing is very Georgette Heyer-ish. There is a keen sense of time and place and absolutely correct usage of Regency language.
What I did not like at all:
1) The pace was slumberous. I mean, it took 15 pages for ONE thing to happen. I think I've gotten used to more "modern" historical romances that are written with quicker pacing, with a structure that gives the characters more "tension".
I think we were supposed to feel urgency due to the fact that these two characters had these secrets that they were withholding from each other. But then it turns out they both find out about each other's terrible secrets before actually the other reveals it to them. Then we see that they're both just ok with those secrets. I mean, what was the point then? Where's the tension? What do they really have to overcome?
They have these made up internal struggles and then everything falls flat like a badly made souffle in this big "reveal" scene with a villain (who was a weak, pathetic person who had no real power over anyone). I felt a bit cheated that I struggled through the whole series of (extremely slow) events only to be treated to this weak climax scene.
2) Dull sex scenes. It's all just too proper to be really hot. Again, I think this is because I'm used to raunchier language in the more recently written historicals, but these two talk like they are at a tea party while doing it. In fact, there's just too much TALKING. Long, witty sentences that are fine when they're building the tension, but then when we're supposed to feel their passion, there is all this noise from their yammering that I was like SHUT UP AND DO IT ALREADY!
The weird thing is that the proper talk is juxtaposed with this incredibly clinical description of his bits and her bits and their bits mashing together. It just felt really strange and not very sexy at all. Like sex between the Queen (forgive me, Your Highness) and her consort. Shivers.
3) No tension. At all. None. And that was surprising. I mean there was a duel, some improper behavior, clandestine smooches, scandalous secrets in both their pasts, a villain... but it all was like a bunch of milky porridge with no texture or grit or sense of urgency. I just didn't give a fig by the end of it. Maybe the pace was intentional since this was a "Christmas" romance and maybe there was the feeling that readers want a nice, slow read for the winter days but I would have been annoyed if I wasted my Christmas break on this.
Skeptic's last word: I still think Grace Burrowes is a solid writer and I'm definitely reading her again. This one was simply too slow for me. Also, I need to be more strategic about when I read her. I need to be in the mood for a Heyer-type read with lots of fun language and less romp.