When Lucy Nightingale first meets Marcus Sommerville, she never expected this man would be the answer to her problems. She was swimming naked in the early hours of the morning at the nearby bath and wash house and he was also swimming, also naked in the same pool at the same time. (Except Lucy shouldn't be there because St. George's is only for men.)
But that first meeting leaves both Lucy and Marcus curious about the other and, when Lucy finds out that Marcus might be able to help her with the dire financial predicament she finds herself in, she approaches him with an offer.
An honorable one: he'll lend her the full amount she needs to pay off her father's loan and she'll pay him back with interest for three years.
But Marcus counters her offer with a dishonorable one: in exchange for the loan, Marcus wants Lucy as his mistress.
Of course Lucy refuses but she cannot allow Marcus to walk away and after much negotiations, she agrees to two dinners and a show with him.
Ever the businessman, Marcus is determined to profit as much from each encounter as he can.
The first thing that drew me to this book are the descriptions: Ava Young is very good at writing clear, image-invoking descriptions of everything --
I love that she describes Lucy's small chocolate shop, Nightingale's as a "sliver of a shop" (loc 48) and how Piccadilly Street is like "a picture gallery, with live people in frames." (loc 2813)
As I was reviewing all the passages I highlighted while reading the story, I discovered that a majority of those highlights had to do with Young's vivid description of things, people and places. The author makes us aware of everything else that usually happens while the hero and heroine are courting.
This is both a plus (+) and a minus (-), I think. I enjoyed the detailed description and narration of the gathering at Mr and Mrs Grey's house in Chapter 7 -- a chapter where the hero and heroine do not interact at all.
He stood by himself, observing with amusement some of the wealthiest men in the City clamoring for the attention of Lord Rothmere. They resembled little children gathered around a favorite uncle; one whose aspect was glum and forbidding, but whose pockets always jingled and crackled merrily with the music of small coins and paper-wrapped sweets.
- loc 1422
Ava Young gives us a sense of the world around the hero and heroine. It's a vibrant world -- full of exciting financial possibilities and of interesting people doing the most interesting things (Carrots, Lord and Lady Derrydown, Ada, etc.)
There is a tranche de vie element in Young's novel -- with paragraphs detailing how Marcus swims (Chapter Nine) to details of riding on the upper level of the omnibus through the streets of London (Chapter 14).
But there's also the danger of being too detailed: too many details might shift the reader's focus from the point of the story: the romance between the hero and heroine. This is not a novel for readers who rush through a story, requiring action and excitement with every page. This is a long, leisurely promenade of a book -- not a glimpse or a brief look but a thorough perusal of the lives of Lucy and Marcus and the people around them.
There were times when I felt the book was becoming overdrawn, but what kept me going and turning the pages was Young's injection of lightness and humor into the story.
"Agatha, you look like a ghost. Of the angry, vengeful variety. Do try not to frighten the servants when you return to your room. Good help is terribly hard to find in London."
- loc 2265-2275
Lucy and Marcus are great characters -- Marcus sees the world in terms of money. Everything has a price and everything can be negotiated. I was a bit annoyed at how clueless Marcus was about what Lucy wanted from their relationship and how he only saw Lucy as "mistress material" -- but I realized that it was part of who he was. The world he lives in doesn't have room for sentiment or love.
Lucy's world, on the other hand, is about one of life's little pleasures: chocolate. Lucy's business is about providing delight to her customers. She wants love; Marcus wants an affair -- she stands her ground. But Lucy is not a perfectly consistent character -- I am unsure of what she wanted from Marcus. On one hand, she seemed the typical English girl who is modest and protects her virtue -- but we see her considering an affair with Marcus. Marcus is very clear that he wants her as a mistress so it surprised me when she accepted Marcus's plans to go to his country estate. (Chapter 17) -- Honestly, what did she hope to achieve by going there? And, when Marcus renews his offer to be her protector, why does she feel so upset?
All in all, this was a satisfying read -- despite the sudden shift in point of view and the, sometimes, overlong passages of description and discourse, this novel has a quiet charm and a number of strong points.
This is Ava Young's debut novel. According to the author's notes at the end of this book, she is currently writing the second book in the series and will feature Geoffrey Delauney.
Final note: I love this phrase: "acts of verbal ravishment" - loc 3211