I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
I won’t lie seeing a Downton Abbey named-dropped in the blurb is what made me pick this up, even if I was a little wary of the Fifty Shades of Grey comparison. Still, I do enjoy erotica, and I thought something set in early 20th century would be intriguing. I thought, after reading the description, that this sounded like it would be a nice mix of historical romance and what I’ve deemed “smart smut” or “literary erotica” (e.g. Tiffany Riesz). To say that I was disappointed is a bit of an understatement.
The major issue with this book is that I was actually enjoying it in the beginning. I read an eARC, so I’m not really sure how far into it I got when it went downhill; my guess is near the halfway point. I liked Sophie in the beginning, even if she was hopelessly naive. She was sweet and genuine. Ash, on the other hand, was incredibly underdeveloped. I think it was near halfway before he appeared in any capacity that gave clues to his personality. Most of the book he remained an enigma, and not in a pleasant way. I think this is probably what makes the book comparable to Fifty Shades. Ash has some serious emotional issues, similar to those of Christian Grey. Luckily, he’s more rational and less demanding, which makes him more likable.
All in all, my disappointment wasn’t really with the characters. I wanted more from Ash’s character, and I felt Sophie did things that were downright out of character later in the book. The biggest problem, however, was the fact that it felt like reading two completely different books. I get why this was compared to Downton. It’s set in the same time period, it has a little of the Upstairs, Downstairsfeel that Downton has. I think one of the failings is that Anthony tries make too much happen in one novel. This easily could have been crafted and turned into a series that, no doubt, would have been eaten up. She didn’t do that though. She wrote it all in one novel, and it comes off unbalanced. View Spoiler » The Sophie at the beginning of the book doesn’t match the one at the end. It might be argued this is due to her relationship with Lord Ashley, but I just don’t buy that. I don’t buy that he changed her that much. What turned me from disappointed to angry was the ending. I’m not the type of reader who requires a happy, shiny ending in every book. Most of the time life doesn’t work out that way, so I’m cool with books being realistic. Still, if you’re going to write a sad ending (or even and less-than-happy ending), it has to be crafted in a way that prepares the reader. That just didn’t happen in this book. I had expectations by the end, and they were totally crushed on the last few pages. It made the whole experience feel like a huge waste of time, and that’s never a good feeling upon finishing a book.
The thing is, negative reviews are pretty rare from me. If I don’t like something, I don’t waste my time trying to drag through it. There are too many good books for me to waste my time reading something I’m not enjoying. That’s what makes reading a book like this so awful and hard. I may not have enjoyed it as much as I hoped, but there were good moments. There were good plot points and great elements. They just didn’t add up correctly. Still, I held on. Because of the good things, I held on in hopes of a good conclusion. That’s probably why the ending felt like a slap in the face. Even if it was realistic, it wasn’t delivered correctly. I wasn’t ready for it, and that made me mad.