Plot (from avonromance.com)
Welcome to Spindle Cove, where the ladies with delicate constitutions come for the sea air, and men in their prime are . . . nowhere to be found. Or are they? Spindle Cove is the destination of choice for certain types of well-bred young ladies: the painfully shy, young wives disenchanted with matrimony, and young girls too enchanted with the wrong men; it is a haven for those who live there. Victor Bramwell, the new Earl of Rycliff, knows he doesn’t belong here. So far as he can tell, there’s nothing in this place but spinsters . . . and sheep. But he has no choice, he has orders to gather a militia. It’s a simple mission, made complicated by the spirited, exquisite Susanna Finch-a woman who is determined to save her personal utopia from the invasion of Bram’s makeshift army. Susanna has no use for aggravating men; Bram has sworn off interfering women. The scene is set for an epic battle…but who can be named the winner when both have so much to lose?
Things I Loved
I adore the whole concept of Spindle Cove: a safe haven for women who don’t fit into London high society. As an awkward ladynerd myself, the whole concept of a seaside resort where I can have wacky adventures with other ladynerds is absolutely thrilling.
Susanna, the heroine, is awesome. She created Spindle Cove as a safe space to protect young ladies who are at risk of having their spirits crushed and their lives destroyed by expectations. I love that she fights to maintain that atmosphere as Bram comes in and tries to “man up” the village of cake-baking innkeepers, blacksmiths who create delicate jewelery, and vicars who have a fondness for the color pink. (At one point, she dresses up like a man and almost cuts off her hair to protect some teenage boys who try to join the militia.)
Bram came thisclose to annoying the pants off of me. Luckily for him, I have a soft spot for the wounded hero. Even though he was pompous and domineering at times, it worked for me because his attitude was at least partially a reaction to his circumstances. I can forgive a career military man for being a jerk if he’s been injured and sidelined from duty.
Speaking of Bram, can we talk about how awesomely Tessa Dare weaves consent into her sex scenes? There’s this fine, fine line between women who want to have sex but feel pressured to refuse because of societal expectations and women who don’t want to have sex but don’t know how to politely refuse. It really, really bothers me when a domineering hero doesn’t procure consent before having sex with the heroine, even if her internal monologue indicates that she’s willing, because it reads more like rape than consensual sex to me.
Bram explicitly pauses and asks Susanna if she wants him to stop and waits for her to affirm that she wants to continue. He’s still dominant and powerful and all of the things many romance readers love in their heroes, but he procures consent. It’s kind of like making sure that characters in contemporary romances use condoms. It avoids triggering survivors of sexual assault and models healthy relationship dynamics. Best of all, it’s subtle. You don’t notice it unless you’re actually looking for it.
Susanna’s father wasn’t sketched out quite as fully as I think I would have liked. Secondary characters were, unfortunately, a bit weak here overall, as was the non-romance plot. One of the downsides to racy romances is that the main relationship/sex scenes can sometimes dominate the rest of the story. Overall, this wasn’t a problem, but it does skate closwer to that line than many readers are comfortable with.
Also, the friendship between Susanna, Kate, and Minerva wasn’t fleshed out enough. As the series heroines, they form a core group who theoretically tie the rest of the trilogy together. It was a little bit too much telling (Kate and Susanna are best friends but they never talk to each other! Susanna and Minerva are apparently friends but all they do is annoy each other!) and not enough showing.
3/4 chili peppers (1 being a step above a sex-free gentle romance, 4 being an all-sex-and-no-plot romance). Proceed with caution if you’re more Georgette Heyer than Ellora’s Cave.