by Renée Dahlia
Publisher: Carina Press
Publication Date: June 22, 2020
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
The war might be over, but the battle for love has just begun.
When Lady Eleanor "Nell" St. George arrives in Wales after serving as a veterinarian in the Great War, she doesn't come alone. With her is her former captain's beloved warhorse, which she promised to return to him—and a series of recurring nightmares that torment both her heart and her soul. She wants only to complete her task, then find refuge with her family, but when Nell meets the captain's eldest daughter, all that changes.
Beatrice Hughes is resigned to life as the dutiful daughter. Her mother grieves for the sons she lost to war; the care of the household and remaining siblings falls to Beatrice, and she manages it with a practical efficiency. But when a beautiful stranger shows up with her father's horse, practicality is the last thing on her mind.
Despite the differences in their social standing, Beatrice and Nell give in to their unlikely attraction, finding love where they least expect it. But not everything in the captain's house is as it seems. When Beatrice's mother disappears under mysterious circumstances, Nell must overcome her preconceptions to help Beatrice, however she's able. Together, they must find out what really happened that stormy night in the village, before everything Beatrice loves is lost—including Nell.
Content warnings: View Spoiler »alcoholism, domestic violence, child abuse, after effects of war (shell shock), misogyny, racism, attempted suicide (via alcohol poisoning, secondary character, discussed), murder (off-page), grief « Hide Spoiler
Historical lesbian romance with horses? Heck yes! Unfortunately, this didn’t quite live up to my expectations.
“I might not have fought at the front, but the war wasn’t without some danger. There have been some…effects on me. One of which is my lack of manners. The old Lady Eleanor, before the war, was polite and restrained. Now, I find I have no patience for it.”
After the end of the first World War, Nell, who had worked as a veterinarian, is charged with returning her captain’s warhorse to his farm in Wales. Nell is suffering from shell shock and a loss of self – she’s reluctant to go home as she knows she’ll have to resume her role of “Lady Eleanor” rather than simply be Nell. Beatrice, the captain’s daughter, has her own problems. She’s lived with her father’s rages all her life, and after the death of three of her brothers in the war, her mother has completely shut down, leaving Beatrice to mother her four younger siblings and run the farm. Despite that, she still manages to be kind, something Nell struggles with. To be frank, Nell is absolutely awful to Beatrice, from initially thinking she’s the family’s maid to constant thoughtless remarks, even during pillowtalk, that hurt Beatrice deeply. To fit in with the Army Veterinary Corps, Nell had to become this angry, nearly perfect person in order to be accepted as “one of the men,” and she’s not sure how to shed that persona.
“My existence is already dictated by one person. I’m not simply going to swap my allegiances to you because of a few kisses.”
A major problem with the book for me was that it was very depressing. I thought I was prepared for it, given that I knew it would be dealing with the after effects of the war, but on top of that there was also the Captain’s horrible treatment of his family, and to compound that, an additional death (with a bit of a murder investigation subplot.) Bad things just keep happening to Beatrice – she never has more than a moment to contemplate how she feels for Nell before she has another crisis to deal with or something thoughtless pops out of Nell’s mouth. Because of all this, I had problems accepting the HEA. Nell latches onto Beatrice and quickly falls in love with her, but Beatrice is more reticent. Her father discouraged her from having friends, and her only experience with a lover was a woman who left her without a second thought. In the end, Beatrice is just so lonely and desperate for love that I wonder if Nell is just a convenient savior for her. There’s definitely a sort of Cinderella feel to the relationship.
“You know me—scars and all—and you balance out all my sharp edges.’
Beatrice’s mouth quirked up on one side. ‘Balance? No, what I want to be is your whetstone. I want to sharpen your edges even more and watch you help people like me be seen.”
There were some beautiful moments where I felt like Nell and Beatrice really communicated, but I felt like they came too late in the book to really establish their relationship. As for other things I liked, I also thought the exploration of class and privilege was fascinating, especially as how it affected Nell and Beatrice’s relationship. Nell is deeply aware of how prejudiced the world is against her as a woman, but she forgets that her class (and her relation to a duke) give her a leg up, as well. Watching her come to terms with that, with Beatrice’s help, was one of my favorite parts of the book.
Overall, this was probably a 2.5 star read for me, rounded up to 3. The overall depressing nature of the book, coupled with the couple’s relationship issues, didn’t work for me.