I love the Victorian period as much as a lot of romance readers love the Regency period. True, the Victorian age was not as glittering and outwardly colorful as the Regency, but it was a dynamic time full of change, especially for women, and it marked the zenith of the British Empire. I started Never Before hoping for a book that would make the Victorians come alive. Alas, this was not it.
Never Before is the first in a trilogy that will feature American heiresses in Europe. The first of our heiresses is Ann Brighton, daughter of Skip Brighton, a man who made millions running the blockade during the Civil War. Ann’s relationship with her father is full of conflict. She loves him, but at the same time resents him for his infidelity toward her mother and his abandonment of her and her brother during the war while he pursued his business interests. When we first meet Ann, she is trying to elope to get away and declare her independence. When her elopement falls through, Ann agrees to accompany her father on a tour of Europe in return for a stipend to buy the horses she wants. He, of course hopes that Ann will meet an eligible man. While Ann is at an auction in Ireland, she meets Rhys Kendall, Duke of Carleton and Dundalk.
Rhys is charmed by Ann (they both hate to wear hats), but has a long-standing animus against her father. Rhys blames Skip Brighton for a disastrous fire several years ago that dealt a blow to Rhys’s business prospects. Skip wants Rhys to join him in a new business deal that will start a cruise line, but Rhys is wary.
Skip pushes Rhys and Ann together at every opportunity, and she begins to fall in love with him. Ann has also attracted another admirer in Adam, Earl Litchfield. Adam is supposed to be a friend of Rhys’s, but considering the way he acts towards Rhys, you could have fooled me. There is also a mysterious man who is stalking Ann, trying to catch her in compromising situations, and planting gossip about her in the tattlesheets of the period.
Ann and her father have a big falling out when she finds that he was behind the no-show of her former fiance. Skip had bribed the man not to show up, and Ann becomes furious. She dresses up like a man (complete with false mustache) and leaves on the train with Rhys for one of his country homes. While she is still disguised, Ann and Rhys pass the time by indulging in some heavy kissing. Rhys teases Ann about her mustache, and, well, I was discomfited by the mental picture I got. All the various conflicts are resolved by the end of the book and the stage is set for the second book in the series which will feature one of Ann’s cousins.
I wanted to like this book because Victorian novels are so few and far between, but Never Before had some problems that prevented my enjoyment.
Never Before was very slow in starting. As I was reading I kept having attacks of MEGO (my eyes glazed over). It wasn’t till the last third of the book that things began to pick up and the story began to move. Rhys was a charming character, but he did one thing that annoyed me no end. When he first meets Ann, he tells her the name Ann means grace. He then proceeds to call her Grace during the rest of the book. Very confusing. I did not like Ann very much at all. I never could get a strong fix on her character and she remained somewhat out of focus for me throughout the book.
I was hoping for a book with some flavor of the Victorian period, but I did not get it here. I read this book right after I finished Anne Perry’s latest mystery, Brunswick Gardens, which is also set in Victorian times. That book and Ms. Perry’s others are wonderful for evoking the Victorian age. Never Before dropped a few names and Ann complains about the cold English weather, but that was about about it. I am still waiting for the Victorian romance novel’s equivalent of Georgette Heyer to come on the scene.