2005, European Historical Romance (Regency England)
Zebra, $6.99, 431 pages, Amazon ASIN 0821777750
It has always seemed to me that the word count for Jo Goodman's books is higher than for other Zebra authors - or that her editor exercises less control with her red pen. Sometimes it can weigh the book down - at other times it makes for a very interesting, although generally angst filled, long journey in the world the author has created. I am happy to say the latter applies to A Season to be Sinful.
Alexander Henry Grantham, Viscount Sheridan (aka Sherry) is spending the
evening with his mistress at Covent Gardens. Due to his mind being on ending the affair, wrapping up business in London and running off to his country estate for reasons unknown, he is unaware of the drama being played out around him, in which he is the target. The event that occurs quickly ends his night.
Through separate conversations with Sherry's sister Cybelline and his
godmother Lady Rivendale, we learn of the attack on his person that left a young boy with a knife in his chest. Not being able to get any information from his personal investigation and knowing there is no way to halt the ton in making his night into much more than it was, Sherry decides to continue on with his plans to leave. It isn't until three young street urchins show up at his door that he learns his assailant was a young woman who now lies dying in some slum. And Sherry's ordered life is about to change in much different ways than he thought.
Five years after being "bought" by The Right Honorable Lord Woodridge from her French convent, Lilith Sterling (aka Miss Lily Rose) is on the run, hiding out in the London slum of Holborn and trying to keep her students Pinch, Dash, and Midge out of as much trouble and harm as she can. The last thing she expected was to find herself a shield for some toff she didn't know or even care for, and even more surprising, she made the quick decision to become his armor.
Pinch, Dash, and Midge are an odd little family of scoundrels, but they are willing to do anything for one another. Despite or because of the age of the boys, which I could never nail down other than Midge is around ten with the other two boys close to that, they have decided it is their job to protect Lily. As much as Lily has done for them, they have been doing for her, generally without her knowledge or consent, and this is the cause of them all coming together in Covent Garden that night.
Sherry, the boys, and a doctor who would rather not be there at all, try to save Lily's life, all for different reasons. Sherry wants information, the scoundrels want their friend, and the doctor wants the money, well...and to not anger the Viscount. And Lily isn't sure what she wants, where she is, or what is going on. For a time I think she would have almost welcomed death to escape the pain of life and her wound.
Once she makes the choice to fight, in a fashion that greatly amused me, the rest of the story is spent trying to heal the wounds Sherry and Lily both have, some they refuse to acknowledge, and putting to bed the secrets and lies that surround them both. Sherry and Lily make such great characters because they both see themselves much differently than others do without becoming martyrs, even though they do come close a few times. Their banter is quick, fresh and shows how matched they are regardless of the sameness or differences in their lives, experiences and choices. And they are both use to caring for
themselves first and foremost, and neither of them understands what is
driving their current actions.
As much as Lily loves the boys - and would give body or soul to keep them safe - she would leave them in a heartbeat if it meant she would be found and have to face returning to the life she escaped. She informs Sherry "If it is because I took a shiv for you, it is not at all necessary. I did not mean to get stabbed, you know, only to deflect the villain's aim. If it will help you feel less beholden to me, then you should know that I am not at all certain
I would do it again." Lily also allows him to find out in one lifeless kiss that sex isn't a good reason to keep her around either. I don't think they know if either statement is true at the time or if they want it to be any different. Where there is a sexual chemistry between the two, it grows from something different than sexual tension. These two are not constantly visioning the other naked and sweaty, their relationship isn't about his plotting to make her his mistress or her loving him from afar, or her wanting to take away that one special memory of the night of passion only Sherry can give her.
Sherry is boggled by his involvement with Lily and the boys, as are those around him. But he sums up he is dealing with not only a very wounded soul, but a strong and smart woman who is "rather more self-sufficient than is strictly proper for a damsel in distress." Couple that with how and where she was found, he has reason to question what she has suffered at the hands of men and how she came to be the whore and thief Sherry assumes she is. The long process of chipping away at Lily's defenses is painful to them both and by the end of it they are both stripped bare and must begin again to try and rebuild
and reshape their ideas of how they can and want to live. The first acts of intimacy between them are shockingly sad and wrong on many levels but watching love created from less than nothing is very touching and well written.
Does this all make A Season to be Sinful a perfect book? No, there are some bumps along the road. A few plot points seem to come out of nowhere and the ending is too perfect. But I didn't care as Goodman made me believe her characters and their nicely fleshed-out backstories, and because the story takes place over a pretty long period of time. She also allows Lily to take back some control and self-respect, which made it all the more wonderful a read.
For readers who might think Jo Goodman has a tendency to be heavy handed with her heroines, "woe is me, it is all my fault, can you slow that bus down so I can throw myself under it", Lily breaks the mold. She shows she can learn, grow, and change. And even comes to understand accepting help from those who love you is just apart of being loved and loving. And isn't that romantic?
-- Sybil Cook
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