I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Lady Clara comes from a loving, titled, and rich family, she also happens to be stunningly beautiful. Even with all these advantages, Clara is still denied the one thing she truly craves, freedom. The early 1800s are not a forgiving time for women and the naturally intelligent and commanding Clara has been forced into a silent pretty doll box that is slowly strangling her. When Oliver "Raven" Radford makes another appearance into her life, it is once again infuriatingly amazing. Raven's intelligence works wonders in the courtroom but makes him less than desired company as social interaction is not his strong suit. His immediate reaction is to dismiss Clara when she comes to him for help but as they get to know one another, he begins to see that her beauty masks something even more radiant and irresistible, her mind. Through obstacles of stubbornness, societal demands, and criminal elements, Clara and Raven battle it all so they can spar alone, in the bedroom.
"Her beauty surrounded her like a great stone wall. Men couldn't see above, beyond, or through it."
Living such a charmed life, Clara might at first seem like an unlikeable or hard to relate to character but the author does a brilliant job of showcasing how isolated, misunderstood, and confined she feels. The frustration and hurt Clara feels and displays when people refuse or are unable to see her for who she truly is, humanizes her in a way that the reader can't help feeling empathy and cheering her on. Her witty thoughts and biting statements ("Even if she got murdered, she ought to do it discreetly") are really clever commentary on sexism and classism; the author was smartly on point with these and one of my favorite aspects of the story.
"Her trouble was, she wanted to be somebody she wasn't."
Separate, Clara and Raven had their strengths; Clara with her inner strength and Raven with his iron resolve. However, it is when they are together that they really shine and keep the reader wanting more. Their chemistry can't be denied, instead of numerous heavy bedroom scenes (there are a couple of these too, just not the center piece) aggressively trying to show us how in love our couple is, we get amusing and quick-witted conversations that stimulates Clara and Raven's minds and bodies. Through this verbal fencing they learn one another as they reveal their true selves. The first half of the story is Clara showing Raven she deserves his respect through her efforts to rescue a boy from a gang and Raven giving it to her, something others have blindly denied her. Neither crosses the anachronistic line with their views on women's rights but rather we see the beginning of understanding what societal restrictions honestly do to women.
As I mentioned, the first half was all about Clara and Raven circling each other and coming together. The very beginning with its quick different pov changes created a bit of a schizophrenic beat that took some getting used to but the story's energy couldn't be denied. Around the halfway point our couple come together (Raven's speech at his "trial" to win the right to marry Clara, will win him the hearts of many readers) and the second half becomes about Clara and Raven's little blips to adjusting to married life, the sudden change in Raven's life trajectory, and the criminal element with its "I've been wronged, revenge!" comes to the forefront. The transition wasn't completely smooth with the inheriting the title of duke into the family feeling tagged on and the criminals looking for revenge feeling not quite coherent and dragged on. I felt the story lost some of its drive as it seemed lost as to where to go after Clara and Raven were married.
With Raven's "I don't suffer fools" attitude and Clara's blinding beauty, they weren't set-up to be the most sympathetic couple but through the author's writing, we get a look into their heartfelt souls. Past characters make very brief appearances but I didn't read the previous books in the series and had no problem following along and the author's writing has me wanting to go back and read the series from the beginning. If nimble back and forth between your leads is your aphrodisiac, this book has it in spades.