The Secret Life of Lady Julia
What’s the difference between a love story and a romance novel? Is it based on the amount of romance there is? Does it have to do with the main focus of the story? Whatever that difference is, I would definitely categorize Lady Julia as more a love story than a romance novel.
Lady Julia Leighton has been waiting for twelve years for her betrothal ball, hoping that David Hartley, the Duke of Temberlay, would look favorably on his bride-to-be. Unfortunately, after she meets the enigmatic Thomas Merritt, Julia finds that her fiance just doesn’t measure up; instead he treats her as an annoying younger sister. What Lady Julia doesn’t know, however, is that Thomas isn’t just there for the ball – he has his eye on her mother’s tiara, and he plans on leaving with it. Instead, he finds Julia, and in one secluded moment leaves with something else – Julia’s virginity.
That one night quickly leads to Julia’s ruin, with her fiance dying a a duel and her family disowning her. She leaves the country with her infant son as a paid companion for Lady Dorothea Hallam, who recently lost her husband and child and is accompanied by her brother Stephen. She’s not the only one abroad, however, and in navigating a maze of politics, she and Thomas meet again. Can they must overcome their past and present to make a future together?
Normally in historical romances, it takes a good part of the book for the hero to convince the heroine to meet him in a secluded room for activities that are not approved by society. At that point, the heroine is well on her way to being head over heels, and even the hero admits (if only to himself) that there is just something about her that captivates him. That is not at all what happens here. Julia and Thomas have an instant attraction, and combining that with Julia’s dismay over her fiance leads quickly to sex. Perhaps a bit too quickly, in my opinion, based on the time period and social norms of the day, but it still works. And then, miracle of miracles, we have a heroine who has not only lost her virginity, but actually gets pregnant! This moment, right here, is what made me want to read this book. I don’t think I’ve ever read in any historical romance where there are actually consequences to having sex outside of marriage. Usually, it seems either the hero decides he must marry the heroine because he has ruined her, or they have been together multiple times before some outside force causes the marriage (pregnancy, parents, etc). This was more of a one night stand, and it was fascinating, even if the sex itself wasn’t all that great.
Also, I was intrigued by the fact that Julia and Thomas spend the vast majority of the book not actually together. They think of each other, but they don’t even know they are in the same town. I was really surprised that the story still worked without our romantic couple actually being romantic. I had some issues with the passage of time – there are dates for the beginning chapters, the ruin and leaving England specifically, but from there to the end of the book we don’t really get a sense of how much time has actually passed (spoiler alert – it is about six months). It wasn’t until the end of the book, where I was able to go back over everything that happened, that I could make sense of how the baby was able to do this, that, or this other thing. But overall, I could just go with the flow on that.
Unfortunately, Lady Julia herself just didn’t do too much for me. She’s a strong woman to be able to pick herself up (with help from friends), find a job that takes her away from her past and family, and create a life for herself and her son. That can’t be easy, no matter the time period. Unfortunately, we don’t actually see that, and she just comes across as…less. Each time she truly stands up for herself is unfortunately linked with violence. Now, I’m not saying that women can’t be or shouldn’t be violent. There are definitely times where it is appropriate (and all the moments here fit my definition of appropriate), but is that the only way to stand up and be strong? And Stephen Ives, brother to Dorothea Hallam, is one of the most offensive characters I’ve read in a while, and he’s not even close to being the villain! He is incredibly self-righteous His inner monologue has him first blaming Julia for his attraction to her, then thinking that perhaps, since she is a fallen woman, she would be a good mistress, and finally saying that he would be happy to marry her (do her a favor!), and he would of course care for her son, and their children would grow up to like (but never respect) their illegitimate brother. Ugh! And there was a completely extraneous epilogue about Stephen (not about the actual couple) where I got the impression that he was in the situation simply because he still desired Julia, even after everything that happened.
In the end, it was an interesting premise that the characters simply couldn’t stand up to. Luckily, the political intrigue and the details around them keep the story interesting. The love story was dramatic, but there was just not enough to make it into a romance novel.