Miss. Ellie Vyne and James Hartley have a long and rather infamous history with one another going back seventeen years from the start of our story. Due to some bad blood between their families, both Ellie and James grew up with the preconceived notion to hate the other person. As they got older, that ill regard became an all-out war between them, with each seizing opportunities to take shots at the other across every ballroom, sitting room or club across London. It has become so ingrained within their personality to dislike one another that neither one have realized that the animosity had long since become a cover for something much deeper between them.
The crux of James and Ellie’s story is rediscovering the truth about someone you thought you already knew. James has always seen Ellie as a bit of a wild woman, without any discipline in her life and perhaps creating more problems for herself than a woman should. What he fails to see in Ellie is her strength of character, her drive to succeed when her situation has provided her few opportunities and her long suppressed need to belong to someone who will accept all of her without wanting her to change who she is. For Ellie, she too has been prejudiced against James for what she perceived were gaps in his honor and for his rakish behavior. He also made the grievous error of falling in love with her best friend while a small portion of her own heart had been captured by him and he never saw her. What she comes to learn about James is that so much of his behavior is his own search for someone who cares for the man and not the reputation. He is also fighting against the memory of a youthful mistake that he failed to rectify at the time and feels he will never have the chance to fix it.
The entire flow of the story is dependent on the reader wanting to see James and Ellie discover that other side of one another, to open themselves up to scrutiny and find something worthwhile in both themselves and each other. I was right there with both characters for the first 80-pages or so; seeing them spar with one another and seeing the deeper meaning behind many of the cuts they were taking. However, by that same 80-page mark I had hoped to see some progress in their relationship beyond just a surface understanding. Unfortunately, Ellie’s character is so wary of trusting James that any progress they make is a shuffle of one step forward, one step back, with very little really moving either the story or their relationship forward.
I also disliked how the author kept relying on silly contrivances to attempt to make the story interesting. She starts off with James falling for a mystery woman at a party who the reader knows is Ellie, so I figured that the book would be about James having to discover that his “love” had been there all along. Then, we are thrown in another direction with the inclusion of a diamond necklace that Ellie uses as collateral against creating a pseudo-relationship with James in order to get her pregnant. The final straw for me was when James, in order to teach Ellie a lesson (why do men in these book always want to choose the most awkward ways to teach lessons?) pretends he has amnesia and becomes her manservant. One of these plot devices would have been enough on top of the already in place enemies-to-lovers trope, but to include three or more into the narrative just started taking away from the underlying romance. It seemed like Ms. Fresina either had a lot of ideas that she wanted to cram into the book or she wasn’t quite sure how to get James and Ellie together so the tried everything but the kitchen sink! Removing all silly set-ups would have improved my impression of the story and probably would have made the read all the more engaging. As it was I had to fight myself to get to the end and wasn’t 100% satisfied by the conclusion.
There is definitely something compelling about the characters within the Sydney Dovetale world Ms. Fresina has created because even though both books one and two weren’t on my recommended list, I still find myself curious about the next title in the series with two next-generation characters finding love. Perhaps for this author the third time will be the charm? We’ll have to see come June 4th.
~Reviewed by Sara
Author: Jayne Fresina
Other books in the Sydney Dovetale series: The Most Improper Miss Sophie Valentine, The Lady Mercy Danforthe Flirts with Scandal (June 2013)