September 2011, European Historical Romance (Regency England)
Dorchester, $14.00, 320 pages, Amazon ASIN 1428511768
I had hoped to love this book. I thought Ms. Lernerís debut, In for
a Penny, was marvelous. I did not love this bookÖbut I did really
like it. And I thought the unusually beta hero was a wonderful
character. Ultimately, my lack of love for this novel stems from my
lack of love for its heroine.
Serena Ravenshaw is an archetype I rarely warm to: The hard bitten
former famed courtesan. Serena was forced into sexual servitude by
poverty and her beauty ó no one hires a gorgeous nanny ó but was able,
years ago, to change her life. She bought her sex contract from the
brothel owner who possessed her with money rather randomly given to
her by a man she met only briefly, Solomon Hathaway. Serena is now
both the owner of a successful inn and the Black Thorn, a woman
with great power in the London underworld. (This irked me ó I didnít
feel Ms. Lerner made that aspect of Serenaís character believable. She
doesnít come across as someone whom people would be terrified to
cross. She isnít a killer.) Serena is adamantly alone and sees
emotional connection as a deadly weakness. She pours her whole self
into her inn and its kitchen and staff, and spends her nights alone.
Solomon has been wallowing in numb misery ever since he learned his
beloved identical twin Elijah died in the Napoleonic Wars. Heís cut
himself off from his aristocratic family and spends his days working
as a tailor in his uncleís shop. Heís depressed, lonely, and stuck. He
is roused out of his despair by a cry for help from his family. His
sister is getting married and a family heirloom she wishes to wear at her wedding has been stolen. Simon goes to see the Black Thorn to
ask for her help in recovering the gems. He and Serena are both
shocked to meet again after so many years.
Many things about A Lily among Thorns are splendid. Ms. Lerner
creates such vivid secondary characters that, at times, I was more
engaged in those stories than in the love story between Serena and
Solomon. One crucial character, Rene, enlivens every page on which he
appears. The staff at the inn is also fantastic ó the amusing back-story
on the faux French chef is better than many other authorsí entire
books! Ms. Lerner is a gifted author. Although she never gushes, she
is a painterly writer. The words on her pages are easy to visualize
and believe in. In scene after scene, I could almost see the contexts
and expressions described in her prose.
I loved Solomon. Heís a beta hero who is strong because itís the right
thing to do, not because itís manly. His heartbreak over his brother
made me cry. He works on himself, trying to be better, in ways that
arenít sanctimonious or angelic. In a romance novel world replete with
alpha, caveman heroes, he is a prince among men.
I didnít like Serena. I donít have any problem with heroines having a
sexual past. And, given how horrific the lives of prostitutes were in
1800ís England, it makes sense that Serena would be emotionally scarred.
But understanding a character doesnít mean a reader has to like him or
her. I found Serena to be too cold and too unhappy. I felt Solomon
Still, A Lily among Thorns is one of the better historicals
Iíve read lately. Ms. Lernerís work is blessedly free from the clichťs
that abound in Regency romance. (Although Serena yet another is
strikingly lovely, divinely curved beauty.) Itís not quite the tour
de force that is In for a Penny, but itís quite good. If youíre
looking for a fine, affecting, historical romance, I highly recommend
A Lily among Thorns.
-- Dabney Grinnan
Order this book from Amazon Books
To comment about any of these reviews on our reviews forum