When I read Full English a couple of years ago, I wrote that it may be my new favourite book by Rachel Spangler. I’m a sucker for romance novels in which one of the MCs falls in love not only with the other MC but also with where they live. Beautiful scenery and scones, I mean, who could resist? I think, however, that Full English just lost its place to its sequel.
Lady Victoria is the daughter of the duke of Northland, whose castle is being used as the set for the movie adaptation of Emma Volant’s book (we met Emma in Full English). Sophia LeBlanc is the star of the film, who would much rather be directing it instead of having to endure the unimaginative shots from the official director, whose only talent is in the power of his name (or, rather, his father’s). Vic and Sophia’s first meeting starts off quite literally as a duel, a duel of wills that goes on and on as they get to know each other.
On Vic’s side, it’s a classic case of instalust but beyond Sophia’s perfect body, what makes Vic crave her is her fire, her passion, her drive. What first begins as a game for Sophia soon becomes genuine when she realises how disarming Vic is. She’s not only sexy, she’s adorable. Together they’re like fire and ice but neither is only fire or only ice. Together they’re like an explosion of senses and feelings.
I know I’ve said it before but I’m very character-driven. If I don’t fall in love with the characters, or at least get a crush on one of them, I won’t enjoy the story as much. No worries here, I loved both, for so many reasons and in so many ways. I’m actually impressed by how layered Spangler managed to make them when they seem to be so straightforward, so standard at first glance. The daughter of an English duke and an American actress who grew up poor in Louisiana, how many romance novels following this formula or a similar one have we read in recent years? And yet, Spangler writes a wholly fresh story, with characters I don’t feel I’ve already read about dozens of times.
What each first sees and thinks of the other is wrong despite making sense. I, as a reader, kept being surprised by what I learnt about both of them. Neither is as easy to read as they seem. This could also partly be because neither is exactly who she thinks she is either. They – and Sophia in particular – think they’re very different, but they actually aren’t. The word that keeps coming to mind for each is “strong”, as in strong-willed and headstrong.
Where they really differ is in how they got to be who they are. Their journeys so far are complete opposites: Sophia had to fight – choose between demons, as she puts it, often reminding everyone how dark her soul is – all the way to where she is and keeps fighting to move forward to where she wants to be. On the surface, Victoria seems to have had everything handed to her as a birthright but with a sense of duty and responsibility which has, so far, stopped her from living her own life. Both situations come with their own set of problems, so widely contrasting that comparisons mean nothing.
It shows in their demeanor: Victoria is very polite and deferential whereas Sophia is – whenever she can get away with it – very in-your-face. One of the first things we find out about her is that she never apologises. The first time she said it, I felt sorry for her. There’s a lot of power in knowing when you’re wrong and taking responsibility. And yet she has a point: women apologise way too much and, more often than not, for all the wrong reasons. That’s one of the lessons Vic will learn with her.
Rachel Spangler does a wonderful job of describing the weight of responsibility Victoria lives with, Sophia’s bitterness at having had to fight every step of the way, and how life experiences so staggeringly different, each at opposite hands of the scale, seem irreconcilable until a shift of point of view shows them to complement each other. Vic’s sense of honour brought tears to my eyes more than once, as did her raw pain and Sophia’s ultimate selflessness.
I also really want to mention the cover, by the incomparable Ann McMan, and the acknowledgements. I always love well-thought acknowledgements, and really miss them in audiobooks, but these are even more special.
Oh, and why haven’t I read In Development yet?