When family pressures push Lady Felicity into a terrible fate, she has only Sir Terence to turn to. Together, the two outcasts become embroiled in the dark depths beneath society's facade. And what they discover about each other is the only thing that's real...
Comment: I had added this book to my TBR in 2014. I often check books I see mentioned in those threads with recommendations for this and that in some blogs, especially of there's something about them that catches my eye. I can only assume it was the case here, for I tend to like fantasy romance.
In this world, we have an alternate sort of reality where people in Victorian England have magical powers, being the royals the most powerful and so on, among the aristocracy. There are also the baronets which have this title for they are shape shifters and the royal family appreciates and defends them, for they are immune to magic and, therefore, are great spies and guards. When this story begins, lady Felicity Seymour has seen her hopes dashed when she couldn't prove her magical powers. However, during her trial, Terence Blackwell, a lion shapeshifter, took notice of something odd about her, especially since he catches the scent of a relic, magic with an evil source. Thinking Felicity might be the user, he tries to ignore her apparent innocence, for that has been his brother's downfall in the past. However, the more they spend time together, the trickier their adventures are. Could it be that someone else is manipulating in the background?
At first, I was feeling quite taken with this story for it begun in an intriguing way. The world building choices (magic existing, and different types, and how one depends on it for social recognition, among other things) felt interesting enough to captivate me, especially since there would also be shape shifters - my favorite kind of paranormal world - and apparently a match with one would not be advisable but of course I was ready to see love conquer all and so on.
Felicity seemed to be a little too innocent but as the plot develops we can see something weird is happening and I figured she would obviously gain her growing pains by learning the truth about what life really is about and how her magic - or lack of it - wouldn't be such a big deal if she was with people who cared about her. The problem for me is that she didn't seem to really evolve, she kept being the same thing and I wonder why the author didn't develop her in a more complex manner.
The hero, Terence, was mysterious enough at first but his actions and motivations for everything are a bit too black and white and he keeps the same frame of mind for the majority of the novel, which makes him feel a little too unbending, too strict in his thoughts and honestly, there were times I felt he wasn't such a great hero material after all. His shape shifting scenes were interesting but we don't have a lot of explanations nor context for what it's like to be a shape shifter apart from the already known denigration most social classes have regarding them.
I finally got the point in the story where it was clear the subjects presented were all superficial, there to carry the plot from one scene to the other, from one conflict to the other and not because the base for this world was indispensable for the plot to be understood. I figured that replacing magic and shape shifting with something else would have allowed the same characters to behave the same. Now, this doesn't mean the author wasn't clever and good at imagining and putting details together, obviously she dedicated a lot of time to create some cohesiveness but, sadly for me, the overall effect wasn't one of intricate mix between world building and character development, and not even a lot of charming little things (except, perhaps, the dragonette, a sort of familiar to Felicity).
The plot has some mystery going on but I must say that from a certain moment on, the culprit/villain became rather obvious as well as why. What I think was the biggest issue was how exactly things were happening, which little clue would have made it obvious. I think the details pertaining to the magic elements were a bit under done, in the sense they might be enough explanation for this specific situation but we didn't have such a big understanding of its repercussion in the big picture...after all, such a big thing as it turned out to be, should have been more important for other characters too and apart from the basics, the main characters don't seem to have many relationships, or at least, not that they seemed to have mattered unless plot moves suddenly demanded it (for instance, how Terence's sisters had to appear in a certain moment).
This brings me to another element in this book I found less than amazing, which is how the society "rules" are interpreted. This is a Victorian society, so plenty of social norms and behavior is required so that this is recognizable as such but... strangely, it is often the rules seem to be overlooked if necessary (strangers being alone in a room, women talking to men they don't know without anyone noticing)... I think that instead of making this an historical fantasy, just the paranormal aspects would have been enough. I see the author has thought about fascinating elements to put them together but, again, for me the final effect wasn't always as smooth as it might have been.
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