Author: Rose Lerner
Genre: Historical Romance
Publisher: Leisure Books
Publication date: September 2011
Paperback: 320 pages
It was him. Serena couldn’t breathe. She’d been looking for him for years—the man who’d lifted her out of the dregs of London’s underworld. She remembered that he’d looked like an angel. But either she’d embellished or he’d grown up. Because he didn’t look like an angel now. He looked like a man, solid and broad, and taller than she’d thought. And now he needed her help.
Solomon recognized her as soon as they were alone in the dark. He’d not forgotten that night five years ago either. But Serena had changed. She was stronger, fiercely independent and, though it hardly seemed possible, even more beautiful. She was also neck-deep in trouble. Yet he’d help cook a feast for the Prince Regent, take on a ring of spies, love her well into the night—anything to convince her that this time he was here to stay.(< /em>
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
How did I get this book: Review copy via Netgalley
Why did I read this book: Rose Lerner’s In For a Penny was one of my favourite reads of 2010 and I have been waiting for her second book ever since.
Warning: this review contains a few spoilers
I loved In For a Penny, Rose Lerner’s first book and had been waiting anxiously for A Lily Among Thorns although part of me feared it wouldn’t be as good as that other book. But thankfully, A Lily Among Thorns turned out to be an excellent read. Showing a penchant for beta heroes, strong heroines and an incredible awareness of important issues (gender, race, sexual orientation identity), this author is definitely a favourite now.
Solomon and Serena first met years ago when she was a courtesan and he, a young and shy Cambridge student about to say goodbye to his virginity. He got cold feet though and left in a hurry but not before paying handsomely for Serena’s troubles. The money was enough to help her starting over and to build a reputation as a top Courtesan until eventually she had enough money to quit that life and to start her own business. In the meantime, Solomon graduates as a chemist and becomes a tailor (his dyes are the best in London) working for his uncle, a job that is the only thing that will keep him going on after his twin brother dies during the Napoleonic Wars.
Years later they meet again. Serena is now not only the owner of a reputable Inn but also of a disreputable reputation as a former whore and a fallen member of aristocracy. She also has connections to the underground crime scene which is what brings Solomon to her door: he needs her help to find the famous Hathaway Earrings, the precious family jewels that had gone missing. Recognising the man who saved her life, Serena agrees to help him and in return asks only for his help updating the furnishings of the Inn which brings Solomon to move in and…things start to happen at speed of light.
Within the course of a few hours, Solomon’s twin brother reappears, alive and well – and working for the Government. Serena’s aristocratic father comes back to her life and resumes tormenting her with the threat to send her to Bedlam for daring to associate with Solomon, a working man; her best friend and business partner who had been gone for years shows up and threatens to take over her business and leave her with nothing. If all of this “coincidence” wasn’t enough already, the biggest threat to Serena’s sanity and independence comes from the adorable, loving Solomon.
Plot-wise, A Lily Among Thorns is quite clever. The story develops beautifully and subtly as all the aforementioned events start to make sense and fall into place – it is a bit of a game of spies’ story and I tend to enjoy those. I also enjoyed how the hero and heroine although having connections with the aristocracy are both working class protagonists and I loved seeing that dynamics playing out.
Beyond that, I loved the gender reversal of this story. Those accustomed to Historical Romance, will know the trope of the degenerate, hardened hero with random criminal connections who is bent on not letting anyone close until he meets the nice, steadfast heroine who is equally bent on avoiding just that. In this book, this role is played by Serena – the former whore, who wishes never to let anyone close enough to make her vulnerable but who falls hard and fast for Solomon. Solomon on the other hand is an awesome beta hero as far from being an alpha hero as it can be. He loves being a tailor and genuinely loves clothes and cooking. Take for example this scene between the two when she tells him that she was once the mistress of the Prince Regent – she expected revulsion but this is Solomon’s reply:
“Does he use French holes?”
She stared at him. She hated to admit that Solomon knew of a perversion of which she had never heard, but there was nothing for it. “French holes?”
“On his corset,” Solomon said impatiently. “You know – most use ordinary buttonholes, but some use a sort of eyelet made of ivory or bone. You can lace them tighter that way.”
She blinked. Then she bit the back of her hand, shaking with silent, helpless laughter.
He is loving, shy and loyal and totally the bee’s knees but he is not perfect and that is perhaps my favourite part of the story.
Because as though it wasn’t enough to have a story with gender reversal and a beta hero and a more than capable heroine, the author goes even further down the path of awesome. Serena is a woman and a former whore and those things are who she is – she can never forget that. She can never forget that people have expectations about her and she has a supposedly pre-determined role to play in life and she always and forever has to deal with this and basically carve her own way up. And yet Solomon – even though he is moved by genuine love and concern – wants her not to care about her past because he doesn’t. But the author makes Solomon’s understanding of the extent of his own privilege an important part of his arc and not only about Serena either because his brother eventually reveals himself as queer (and boy, the secondary love story between him and his lover is awesome) and Solomon doesn’t react that well to start with. But eventually he realises it isn’t about him and that is when he is able to really get through to Serena and to really, really give her a choice. And that makes all the difference in the world.
This is a great book, all. I highly recommend it, especially to those who are reluctant about reading romance novels: this is fabulous place to start.
Notable Quotes/ Parts: Thanks to Angie for writing down what was my favourite quote as well.
“You’re right,” he said again. “I haven’t been fair. I was afraid, too. Afraid of being alone, I suppose. Afraid of being without you. But–you know, I–” His voice cracked. Damn.
“Solomon–” she said, and he loved the way she said his name so much that he had to keep talking or he might do something selfish like tell her that.
“I never believed, before I met you, that I could go my own way,” he said. “That I could deserve more than someone was willing to give me. That love might not be worth the sacrifices we have to make for it. You’ve taught me that. What I mean is–I do understand, if you decide you don’t want–” He waved a hand between them, as if in a moment the word that would describe all that lay between them would pop into his head. As if such a word existed. He shook his head. “This.”
She stared up at him, the shadows making her eyes look huge.
“You’re giving up?”
He stood up. “That’s exactly the problem. This has turned into some kind of tug-of-war. I’m not giving up. I’m just saying that I won’t push you anymore. I won’t ask for anything. I’ve been torturing you, and it’s not fair. If nothing’s changed when we go back to London on Sunday, I’ll leave. Just please–make a decision that will make you happy. Take good care of yourself.” She looked as lost as he felt. He went to the bed and stood looking down at her: at her perfect face and her perfect body that suddenly, for the first time, looked ordinary.
She wasn’t a goddess, or an angel, or a harpy. She was a woman, a frightened, unhappy, determined, beautiful woman, and he loved her so badly that just leaning down and brushing his lips across her left temple, where her birthmark was, brought tears to his eyes. “Thank you for everything,” he said, and left.
Additional Thoughts: Rose Lerner is guest blogging with us today, talking about the Inspirations and Influences behind writing this book. Make sure to check it out – we are also giving away a copy of the book. HERE.
Rating: 8- Excellent
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