It's a shame to start reviewing such a great item with a cliché, but don't start this before you go to bed, or you will be reading all night.
The year is 1859, Gayle Renshaw has a dream, nearly an obsession, of becoming one of the first women to be admitted to the practice of medicine in England. None of the objections anyone can raise will deter her, and this is why she blackmails Dr. Rowan West into accepting her as an apprentice to stand a better chance to be enrolled in a medical school. Because she believes Rowan to be an unscrupulous villain, she expects him to defy convention, or at least for her blackmail to be easy. Driven by the need to prove herself and her ambition she forces her way inside his house despite his reluctance and his disbelief. But as they work together, she realises he is not the villain she expected, and he realises she is not as hard hearted as she lead him to believe.
One thing I liked a lot about this book is that it lets the relationship simmer for a while before turning up the heat between the characters. That only makes it more interesting when it does happen. Another interesting thing is that it dispatches the "ohnoes, I will be ruined if I stay with him overnight" at the very beginning of the book, and it's refreshing to see a female character who is ruthless in the pursuit of her objective. That was clever of Bernard. I also enjoy her fresh way to bring a lot of emotional conflict in very relatable ways. And yet the reactions of the characters also seem rooted in their time.
Despite her ruthlessness, Gayle is a good character, easy to relate for women who have a thirst for knowledge. The frustrations she goes through are well explained and her determination made evident. But she is also a woman caught in a moral dilemma when she resorts to blackmailing a man to get what she wants. Then she is caught between her former beliefs about his past and what she sees of him in her daily life. When she grows to care for him, she must mend the fence between them, and how she tries to do that is one of the high points of the book for me.
Rowan himself is also an interesting hero. Handsome of course, but it's interesting that the author makes him more attractive by the way he acts and the way he looks beyond appearances where Gayle is concerned.
There is a mysterious intrigue that seems to carry over the series this book is pulled from, and it is well executed, but it's not the meat of the book. The narration is also interesting, because the author uses paragraphs in italics to give us insight into what each protagonist thinks, but thankfully not in the same chapters, at times giving us a sense of the events unfolding through the eyes of each of them. I worried at the beginning of the book that this would become annoying, but somehow, probably because the rest of the narration moves along very well.
I loved this book, and it made me want to read the others in the series, not to mention kept me up late at night.