Miss Anne Jewell is a teacher at Miss Martin’s School for Girls. She is beautiful, beloved by all of her friends, but has a son, David, by a man who was not her husband and is thus branded by society. When Joshua, a cousin of her son’s father and a great help to her, offers to take David and Anne to Wales for a month of summer vacation, Anne can’t refuse for her son’s sake and hesitates when she is treated as a guest rather than as the servant she considers herself. Sydnam Butler is a war veteran, missing an arm and an eye and scarred down half of his body. Now he is steward for his friend’s estate and dreams of buying a small property from him, believing that no woman will love him when children run in fear of his face. Both Anne and Sydnam must heal and understand in order to embrace the feelings that they unexpectedly discover for each other.
Mary Balogh, please welcome yourself to my favorite authors list. I loved this book. It’s not at all what I’d expect from a romance novel. It’s not all passion and sex; that’s fine sometimes, but when it comes to emotional intensity, this book completely astonished me. Both of the main characters are very scarred, Sydnam on the outside and Anne on the inside from the rape which led to David. Here they must overcome the belief they share and learn that they are good enough and that they can love and be loved. They become friends first and developing attraction comes later. It’s so refreshing to read a novel without stunningly beautiful main characters. I didn’t realize how great that would be until this book came along.
Somewhat surprisingly, I also loved David’s part in this novel. He is a child but it’s easy to see his influence on not only his mother but on Sydnam, forcing Sydnam to break a little out of his shell and try to be different. There is a little subplot rotating around Sydnam’s artistic ability and how he can learn to paint again with his left hand, something he thought he would never do. No one is allowed to remain comfortable in this book, everyone has to take a step outside of their comfort zone and learn to compromise to be with other people, which is what love is all about.
Oh, I can’t gush enough about this one. Even the sex is quite subdued if that’s what puts you off romances. This is an emotionally satisfying, moving read that I think is worth a try by everyone.