This was a truly fascinating story, and although it was a very difficult book to read, for reasons I will get to at the end (see my trigger warning), I thought the author did a wonderful job showing a side of mid-18th century England that I hadn't seen before. The heroine is a woman of wealth and status, while the hero is a baronet and lawyer who seeks justice for all, regardless of station or circumstance. Their lives were so different up to the point where they met, and the stark contrast between the two were evident throughout the book. I loved the heroine's transformation as she was able to shed the confines of her former status in life. My one issue with the book is petty but something that I think caused me to be unprepared for the utter devastation that was the first chapter - the title. It doesn't quite convey the gravity and horror that was inflicted on the heroine, and I would have wished for the book to be given a title it deserves. Something that reflects the story within. It's really minor but still, I thought I would mention it.
Lady Juliana Uppingham never expected her wedding night to be so violent - in more ways than one. After a night of particular devastation, she awakens to find herself in a pool of blood, with her new husband dead at her side. The house is immediately roused, Juliana is accused of the deed, and she is whisked off to her parents' home until her fate is determined. Sir Edmund Ashendon is told to retrieve her, so she can face justice for her crime, but upon entering her home and speaking with her, he realizes that an even more grave injustice has been done to Juliana than what is seen on the surface. Taking her to his home for safekeeping until a trial is set, they work together to determine who could have killed her husband. And when someone else dies, it's clear Juliana's life is in danger. They have to work fast to prove her innocence before her life is taken from her, either by the killer or by the hangman's noose.
Poor Juliana, I felt completely at a loss on her behalf. First, she is given away in marriage by greedy parents who knew of her husband's proclivities and chose to give their daughter to him anyway. Then her absolutely dreadful wedding night, which is where my trigger warning comes in (major sexual abuse here, and while not overly graphic, it's also not subtle either). And after she is mercifully relieved of her husband, she is accused of murder and even her parents think she did it. It's disgusting how she is treated, and I was so glad she had Ash there for her. His family is such a contrast to her own, and I was glad that she could experience what a loving family could be like. He was obviously a devoted brother and had a generous heart, and he shared that with Juliana when she needed it most. He didn't have to, but he recognized her need for comfort and kindness. They were a sweet pairing, and given their circumstances, while no intimacy was portrayed on-page, I still felt their love shine through.
This is just the first book in Ash and Juliana's journey, and I'm excited to see where their relationship goes from here. It was truly an enjoyable read, and I looking forward to the next book!
**I received a free copy via NetGalley and this is my honest review.**