Ash and Juliana, Book #1
Heat Factor: One kiss
Character Chemistry: Solid
Plot: Juliana wakes up after her (traumatizing) wedding night in a pool of her husband’s blood. Naturally, she is the prime suspect. She enlists the help of lawyer/investigator Ash to save herself from the gallows.
*Content Warning for violent sexual assault before the book opens. It’s never described, but it is frequently referred to, and enough details are included throughout the text for the reader to get a pretty good idea of how bad it was.
The opening sequence, where a woman rolls over to discover a dead body in her bed, might be a cliché, but it’s a classic for a reason. The setup is engaging! We’re immediately plunged into mystery and intrigue, and of course our heroine is the prime suspect who must clear her name. Enter our hero, Ash, who is initially sent to ensure that Lady Juliana doesn’t evade justice because of her status, but quickly comes to believe that even if she killed her husband, she probably had good reason, and therefore doesn’t deserve to hang. Ash offers to serve as her guarantor (read: polite word for jailor), and Juliana moves into his home and the two of them work together to solve the case.
So that’s the premise. Let’s talk about execution.
I loved the attention to history. In Sharp’s hands, Georgian England feels very foreign. For example, Juliana is unbothered by being seen naked by others, because as a lord’s daughter, part of her “job” is appearing en déshabille when people come to call—but God forbid she be seen without her face painted and hair powdered. Or the scene where a mob surrounds Juliana’s father’s house, clearly planning on some extrajudicial justice, and everyone is pretty unconcerned about the impending riot, as if riots were a regular occurrence.
I also thought the romance here was decent. It’s a slow burn that is clearly setting Juliana and Ash up as partners in solving crime and in the bedroom—in subsequent books. With that said, the pacing of the romance was decent, and I did appreciate that there was no sex, given that Juliana spends the entire book processing how deeply disturbing her wedding night was. The book ends with Julina and Ash with a solid partnership and burgeoning friendship and maybe a hint of sparks between them, which is absolutely enough for a series opener, as long as you’re not expecting a full standalone love story.
Sadly, there was a lot more that didn’t work for me than did.
The first is a personal pet peeve of mine: I hate it when the heroine has always been a doormat, but in the first chapter of the book, decides that she’s going to stand up for herself from now on. (See Marrying Winterborne for a particularly egregious example of this dynamic.) And then throughout the book, thinks things like, “No, I will not let myself be shunted aside like I always was before.” I don’t mind a growth arc from quiet and acquiescent to boldly claiming her own life; I would just rather see it play out as the story progresses.
More important is that the mystery is poorly plotted. It’s not that interesting or mysterious, includes some lack of clarity on the villain’s interest in Juliana (she’s an heiress whose son will inherit her father’s title, but what does that have to do with killing her husband?), and for which the solution kind of comes out of nowhere.
And finally: this book would have benefited from a better copy editor, who had noticed things like Ash’s informant telling him that “The Raven” was behind things right before the author states that neither Ash nor his informant say the the winged one’s name because the walls have ears.
Am I nit-picky? Maybe. But murder mysteries really need to be tightly written, and this one wasn’t quite there.
I voluntarily read and reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.
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Appearing en déshabille and other Georgian practices (and wigs)