The Secret Lover
The Secret Lover is my first Julia London book and I can safely say that I’ve never read a book where the protagonists drove me as crazy as these did. Strangely enough, I’d also recommend the book because of those same protagonists.
Ms. London’s latest is related to her Rogues of Regent Street trilogy – literally. The heroine is Sophie Dane, sister of Julian Dane (The Ruthless Charmer), who has spent the last eight years in exile from home and family. As a young woman she eloped with an unsuitable man and has since reaped the rewards of that mistake. He abused her and though her family helped her to divorce him, she was driven from England as a result. Now, after traveling across Europe with her employer Honorine Fortier, Sophie is making a reluctant return to London at the urging of her family.
Sophie’s sisters and brother don’t want to believe her when she says she has no wish to enter society again. They’re convinced that if she starts slowly she’ll be able to regain some of her reputation and maybe, just maybe find a respectable man willing to marry her. Sophie’s protests fall on deaf ears. The only person she’s able to be honest with is a man she meets in the park – the last man of whom her family would approve.
Caleb Hamilton is the illegitimate son of a viscount and half-brother of the respectable man Sophie’s family would like her to wed. Trevor Hamilton was someone who barely noticed Sophie during her first season and his sudden interest in her seems suspect to Sophie. Nevertheless, her family wants the connection and sees Trevor as more then worthy of her respect and possible adoration. Her sister Ann thinks she should be grateful for his attentions.
Sophie’s desire to please her family and the possibility of once again being respectable is weighed against her ever-growing feelings for Caleb. That things aren’t made instantly easy for her as far as society goes is a strength of this novel. Too many romances set amidst the British ton involve powerful friends of the hero/heroine who smooth their paths back to respectably with unbelievable ease. Sophie actively struggles to be seen as respectable once again.
The other primary strength of this novel is the way that Sophie and Caleb are drawn, at least initially. Their love affair doesn’t happen in an instant. They have strong feelings for one another but must battle society and their families to make those feelings worth something. I liked that Sophie was a bit of a doormat where her family was concerned. She feels responsible for ruining the family name with her notorious past and will do what she can to make things right. And Caleb’s uncertainty about what he has to offer Sophie make him an initially irresistible beta-hero.
You’ll notice the proviso ‘initially’ used a couple of times in the last paragraph. While I thought Sophie and Caleb were drawn with careful realism, that very factor began to wear a bit by the time the book reached its halfway point. Sophie’s inability to tell her family no began to annoy me, and Caleb’s quick acceptance of a rebuff was equally hard to take. By this point these people have been driven pretty hard and the fact that they haven’t developed backbones almost made me want to stop reading about them.
Ms. London does very successfully incorporate an interesting gothic tone with the mysterious doings involving the viscount. Unfortunately a chase across the countryside broke the flow of what had been a character driven story up to that point. The author certainly knows how to draw realistic, sympathetic, and at times unlikable characters the reader will still want to root for. That said, she didn’t seem to know when to stop and resolve things for these protagonists without throwing in some action. I would marginally recommend the book on the strength of the characters, but be forewarned that they may eventually try your patience.