You really have to give Zebra credit for their willingness to publish books with unique settings. I’ve seen ones recently set in late nineteenth century South Carolina, the battlefields of the Crimean War, and the French Revolution. I picked up Loving Lily in particular because it set in Williamsburg right before the Revolutionary War – a setting I adore. While I’m thrilled Zebra goes out on a limb to publish books that are different, I have also found that the quality of these books is often lacking. Such is the case here. This is a setting I love, but although the characters were likable enough the author gets almost nothing right about the time period.
Lily Walters is Williamsburg’s first florist. Her father was a botanist who sent plant specimens back to England, and after the death of both parents she decides to turn her love of flowers into a business. She has a younger brother named Peter to support, and one day she walks in on Peter as he is holding a secret meeting with Williamsburg’s Sons of Liberty. The obvious leader of the group stands in the shadows, but he makes no secret of his appreciation for Lily.
The leader is Adam Pearson, who is actually an English earl, but he’s come to sympathize with the American cause. He’s more or less hiding out in Williamsburg because his commanding officer – in the British army – is still looking for him. Adam helps the Sons of Liberty organize and train by night. By day he disguises himself as a foppish English gentleman, Adair Sotheby. He comes into contact with Lily in both guises, because she starts using a secret flower vocabulary to send messages. This happens in “Adair’s” home, because Peter and Lily know he has an informant there (they just don’t know that it’s him). As tensions between loyalists and patriots increase, Adam and Lily are drawn together repeatedly. They are both attracted to each other, and as Lily nurses the wounded Adam, they act on their feelings. But Adam is still living a life of secrets. He doesn’t know if he can commit to Lily, or even tell her of his other identity as Adair. Meanwhile, his commanding officer is moving closer to the truth and at any moment he could be unmasked as a traitor.
This is not a bad read, but it is a disappointing one. I liked Adam and Lily, especially at first. I was worried for a moment at the beginning when Adam compared all women to the treacherous Lilith – this because he felt betrayed by the actions of his mother – but he gets over that pretty quickly. I liked the idea of Adam being won over by the people he originally planned to spy upon; it actually reminded me of a thought-provoking episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where something similar happens. It would have been great to see Adam at the point where he was really thinking about his loyalties, though – by the time we meet him he is solidly in the patriot camp.
Another thing I really liked was the idea of sending messages through flowers. This seemed not only creative, but possible. I’ve read about slaves who were planning to escape through the underground railroad communicating through quilts, which is kind of similar to this. At any rate, it was a great idea.
But – and this is a huge but – the research here was simply terrible. Or perhaps I should say utter lack of research. Ms. Everett clearly put her time into studying flowers and their meanings, which is fine, but otherwise she seems to be almost completely ignorant about the period. It started at the beginning when the British soldiers called the American rebels “patriots.” Americans would certainly refer to themselves this way, but loyalists or British soldiers would never do so. That was just the tip of the iceberg. I wondered at first why the author didn’t give a date at the start of the book, because I was curious as to when this was all happening. Was it after the first shots were fired at Lexington and Concord? After the Declaration of Independence in 1776? Way before, maybe, when people were just starting to become annoyed about things like the Stamp Act? I never could figure out, and I doubt the author knew either. She has the hero participate in the Boston Tea Party (1773) before the book begins, but then they both learn about the Boston Massacre (1770) during the course of the book. They also discuss both the First and second Continental Congresses (1774, 1776) as if they both happen during the course of the book, which takes place over three months, max. While I wouldn’t expect every author to be an expert in the historical period she is writing about, surely spending three minutes looking at a timeline isn’t too much to ask – especially if you are planning to write three books about the period in question.
There are other minor problems as well. The author takes the flower metaphors a little too far for my taste. Adam calls Lily “Little Flower,” which was a bit much on it’s own, but I really cringed when he asked her to “bloom for him” during a love scene. Characters also behave in an illogical fashion late in the book when Adair/Adam’s identity is revealed. One person is unwilling to trust him – which makes no sense – and another supposedly intelligent individual on the other side is too willing to trust him. Neither reaction rang true.
This book definitely has its moments, but it is very flawed as well. As someone who loves Revolutionary War romances I was predisposed to like this one, but the inaccuracies would make anyone with a knowledge of history shudder. I would advise fellow Revolution fans to try Laura Lee Guhrke’s Charade, Patricia Potter’s Star Keeper, or my personal favorite, Karyn Monk’s The Rebel and the Redcoat.