Lily features an odd combination of negative traits. There were many times during the course of the book when I shook my head and wondered how on earth it was published, and who the target audience could possibly be. One thing’s for sure: it doesn’t include me.
When Lord Rand Nesbitt sees Lily Ashcroft at the christening of his best friend’s children, he falls in love at first sight. She is just so gorgeous! He’s not sure he is ready to get for marriage and a wife – after all, he’s a second son who has carved out a life for himself as an Oxford professor. He thinks about it for about five seconds, and decides he is ready after all. He wants Lily.
There is one problem: Lily’s sister Rose wants Rand for herself, and she makes Lily promise not to get in her way. Lily promises to help Rose land Rand, then immediately regrets her vow, because she falls in love with him herself. Thus we have the conflict for roughly the first half of the book: Lily loves Rand, but doesn’t want to break her promise. There are numerous conversations among all the secondary characters about this. Everyone thinks about the problem and wonders what to do. Eventually, Lily decides to break her promise (just like we all knew she would). Then we move on to conflict number two: Rand’s jerk father wants him to marry someone else. They spend the rest of the book trying to get around this problem, then they live happily ever after.
Off hand, I can’t think of any books with uninspired plots and uninteresting conflicts that still manage to be marginally entertaining. The lifeless characters and listless plot are boring in the extreme, and it’s the type of read one must get through by sheer force of will. However, the book went from tedious to bizarre during the first sex scene. The heroine is an avowed animal lover, and she is followed everywhere by a sparrow, a cat, and a squirrel. All three of them join Rand and Lily for one of the weirdest love scenes imaginable. While Rand and Lily, um, get it on, the cat is constantly hiccoughing and brushing against Rand’s legs. The bird and squirrel look on with avid interest. And for the next love scene, the menagerie is back, scratching at the door. I’ve been thinking about this for two days, trying to figure out why anyone would write something so strange. Was it supposed to be sexy? Funny? Appealing to an untapped market of readers who are curious about voyeuristic animals?
If you can get past the bizarre animal stuff, there’s still another serious problem – major historical inaccuracy. Admittedly, not everyone cares about this. Many readers can look the other way when an author makes title mistakes or throws in an anachronistic phrase. But this book was so off that I wondered why the author didn’t just write a contemporary. If you want to have a heroine have slumber parties and a hero who loves to jog, why set your book in the past? Part of the reason the past is romantic to us is that certain constraints were in place that made romance and love a little more daring. Here the hero and heroine are calling each other by their first names from the get-go, and the heroine’s parents are actively encouraging her to have sex. Compare this to, say Pride and Prejudice, where it’s sexy the first time Darcy takes Elizaebth’s hand in a dance, and wonderfully romantic at the end of the book when he finally calls her “dearest, loveliest Elizabeth” instead of “Miss Bennet.” Royal confined her research to two areas: historic Oxford, and An Antidote Against Melancholy, which is a book of bawdy songs popular during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The scenes featuring this research are almost jarring when compared with the history lite encountered in the rest of the book. The bawdy songs are fun (they are the reason the book received a D rather than an F), but the author really needs to go back to the basics and get a fundamental grasp of history before delving into the specifics.
It’s hard to imagine Lily as a worthwhile read for anyone. If you are interested in bawdy songs, or seventeenth century history, I’d recommend doing your own research. If you want a compelling love story with interesting characters, I’d look elsewhere this month. This book is part of Royal’s Flowers series, which started with Violet and will be ending with Rose. Since Rose is even stranger than Lily, I doubt many readers will be interested.