By Judith McNaught, 1990, European Historical Romance (England and Scotland)
Pocket, 1995 reprint, $7.99, ISBN #0671742558
To be perfectly honest, Almost Heaven, my ultimate favorite romance in the whole world, wasn't exactly that when I first read it. No indeed, it wasn't love-at-first-read in the beginning, but, rather, hate. Let me say that I wasn't used to romance novels at this point in time and that I couldn't understand the torrent of emotions that overwhelmed me as I scanned the pages of this novel. Halfway through the book, I put it on my shelf and didn't bother with it anymore. One day though, I decided to read it. Really read it. After this, I decided that Almost Heaven was the best romance ever put to writing.
Let us start with the heroine, Elizabeth Cameron. She was orphaned early at a very young age and left to handle all her fathers gambling debts. As the Countess of Havenhurst, she had to make an advantageous match in order to save her home from the auctioneer's block. Her chances for that are ruined when her reputation gets soiled due to the betrayal of a friend and her attraction for the hero. Surviving a storm of a scandal, she becomes an outcast for a year.
I admire Elizabeth very much not only because of her great beauty but for her determination and strength , which enables her to endure all the burdens mentioned. Among all McNaught's heroines, she has always been, for me, the epitome of true womanhood. She may not have been as fiesty as the others, nor did she perform amazing stunts on horseback or demonstrate skills with the rapier, but her strength of character and her love for the hero make her exceed all females in my book.
Ian Thornton isn't also your usual type of hero. Mr. Thornton is in fact, aside from being a deadly marksman, a genius. "His mind worked with great speed, going from point A to point Z", the book says, from problem to solution, in a matter of seconds, and it is this intelligence in him which gains my favor, not his wealth, nor his good looks. . . well, I'm not sure about the last part of that! He also isn't afraid of falling in love, and of expressing his affections for Elizabeth in public. Actions such as calling one's beloved "darling" in public may have been socially inappropriate, but when Ian does it, it is daring and utterly romantic.
When Ian believes his beloved Elizabeth has betrayed him, he is undoubtedly rough and cold to her when they meet again after being separated. His brusque demeanor served to illustrate to me how affected he was by her. And when he finally realizes the depth of her feelings for him and the error of his ways, he is extremely remorseful and concocts a scheme for society to accept her and for her to become his once more.
It works. Almost Heaven is an absolute tear jerker and the great emotion the couple feel for each other truly touched my heart. The relationship between Ian and Elizabeth is the greatest example of human love I've ever seen in literary fiction and is witnessed through the heart-breaking dialogue shared between the two. This romance isn't just about some hard man and how he unwittingly falls in love with this young girl. It's not about a proud girl refusing to admit her feelings for the hero. This story isn't about how a couple realize their love for one another. It's about two people, already in love at the beginning of the novel, and whom aren't fearful of showing of, fight fate for one another. It's about the triumph of love over fate, how separation only strengthens and mostly, how Love conquers all.
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