Oh wow, I have all the feels, and I do mean all the feels, for this book!
This is my first book by this author, first of trilogy, and now I really can’t wait to read the other two in the series! And beyond, as I know she has an entire treasure trove of stories out there to dive into 🙂
Before I go on, I’m going to talk about elements of plot in this review. Mostly I don’t think they’re very spoilery, they’re things mostly revealed or hinted at in the blurb, the Prologue, or both. But I’m not going to hide anything under spoiler tags, so if you’re acutely spoiler averse, this is your cue that this review may not be for you. 🙂
This is the story of Eddy Carmichael, a young black woman circa 1870, on her way from Denver to San Francisco where she hopes to open a restaurant. But a series of misfortunes results in a detour to Virginia City, Nevada, and to a fateful encounter with Rhine Fontaine, who is not only handsome, charming, honorable, and kind. He is possibly the richest man in town, and he’s also a white man – or, so it appears. Which makes the attraction instantly sparking between the two of them a problem for both, due to the times. Marriage between whites and persons of color was forbidden then in most states, and Eddy Carmichael is a woman with far too much self-respect to become a wealthy white man’s mistress. What she doesn’t know and the reader does, is that Rhine Fontaine, to whom we’ve already been introduced in the Prologue set 5 years before these events, is in reality a black man and a former slave, born on a Georgia plantation. With the end of slavery following the Civil War, because he is very light skinned, Rhine has been able to pass as white, and has chosen to do so. And in doing so he’s risen to a position of power & respect in the white community, a position he consistently uses to support his own people at every opportunity. But his choice has also come with a price, and this story is as much the story of Rhine coming to terms with that & rethinking his choices, and the story of Eddy coming into her own as an individual and a member of a community, as it is the story of Eddy & Rhine’s relationship.
It’s very much a slow burn, both in terms of the story & the romance, so it took a while for me to realize how truly awesome this book is. I didn’t mind, I just took it as a sort of leisurely read, figured I’d probably be giving it a four star rating. But somewhere just past the mid-point things really caught fire in this story and I ended up finding it just incredibly romantic, meltingly sexy, and more than anything, powerfully moving. And no question, it’s a solid 5-star read for me.
The reason it’s such a slow-burn is that quite a bit of time is spent in setting up the story, introducing us to a fairly large cast of characters – to an entire community, really – and in introducing them to each other, allowing relationships to form and build. Quite a lot is also spent in allowing the main character, Eddy, find her place in her new community, and to blossom in a way a life of hardship has never allowed her to do before. Laying this groundwork is necessary and there’s a big payoff later in the story, a greater emotional impact to the things that happen, for having this deeper sense of knowledge of the characters and their lives. But it does mean that much of the earlier story proceeds at a sort of pedestrian pace.
Once this story really hits its stride, however, that all changes; and the story fairly explodes with drama and feeling. The building love story between Eddy and Rhine deepens, their relationship becomes touchingly caring, and then passionately romantic & sexy, whoa, in a deliciously seductive way I have to confess I’m particularly fond of. It’s a bit of an old-fashioned style of sexy, I suppose, sensuous in detail without being explicit, but I found it no less affecting for that. But the power of this story goes far beyond sex & romance. To be able to have Eddy in his life in the way he wants her, in the way that respects her as she deserves, Rhine must make a courageous, life-changing decision. This becomes a catalyst for ensuing events. Reactions to this by the other characters of both races show their true colors in ways that have nothing to do with race and everything to do with human decency, courage, compassion, or the lack thereof. And with true self-respect, vs false-pride.
This book was exciting, swoony with sexy romance feels, made me laugh out loud, gave me such fond warm fuzzies for the characters I wanted to reach into the book & hug them at times, moved me to anger, then to cheer each time the good guys gave the bad guys their well-deserved comeuppances, and moved me to tears many, many times, tears of joy, of compassion, of pride in the courage of these characters, and just for those little moments of human resonance, where something happens and you’re like, yes, I know exactly how that feels.
This is a great story, and if you like slow-burn romance and don’t mind a slow buildup, I would unreservedly recommend this to everyone.
As a bonus, there are some really cool notes on the research for this story at the end, with some fascinating stuff about the true bits of history that inspired parts of this story. Also, I see that Rhine Fontaine appeared as a character in a much earlier novel, Through the Storm, so now I need to go back & read that one too!
Meanwhile, on to the next book in the trilogy, Breathless!