GENRE: Romance / Historical
PUBLISHED: Avon, 2008
WHY THIS NOVEL: Reason I bought it: bargain price;
Reason I read it: it’s been on the dining table since the day it was in the mail which was 2 (?) weeks ago (yes, that’s how it is around here)
“It’s the last chance for Cynthia Brightly, the ton’s most bewitching belle. Driven out of London by a secret scandal, she must find a grand husband at the Redmonds’ house party before word of her downfall spreads all over England. Unfortunately, someone at Pennyroyal Green is already privy to the whispers of broken engagements and dueling lovers: Miles Redmond, renowned explorer and–thanks to his brother’s disappearance–heir to the family’s enormous fortune.
Miles set his sights on Cynthia once, at a time when the ambitious beauty thought herself too good for a second son. But now he’s heir apparent, relishing his control. He strikes a bargain with her: he’ll keep Cynthia’s steamy secrets and help her find a husband among the guests–in exchange for a single kiss.
What could be the harm in a simple kiss? Cynthia is about to discover that it’s enough to unleash a fierce passion–and that Miles Redmond is most certainly like no other lover in the world.”
This is the third book I read by Julie Anne Long. Right away, I was reminded that I actually like her voice (and wondered why I waited so long to read another of her books). Like No Other Lover is a novel where on the surface nothing much happens. It tells of a house party in the country and of the people attending it, mainly Cynthia and Miles who both try to secure their future in the two weeks the house parts lasts.
Cynthia is all alone and on her own in the world and therefore she desperately needs a husband. A wealthy husband, preferable, and she does and uses anything to get herself just that. She’s mercenary and calculating. She studies other people and then acts accordingly. She knows what kind of effect clothing has and she uses this knowledge to achieve the image she wants to project in a certain situation. She isn’t ashamed of that because she lived her whole life on the edge of survival with no money or family to fall back on in time of needs. At one point she says to Miles:
“I know what you think of me, Miles, I know what you have* thought of me. But I have a heart. I do have a heart. I just cannot afford to use it. Don’t you see? Why can’t you see this? Whereas you–may play at all of this as much as you like. There will always be someone for you. And that is the difference: I cannot afford to use my heart. And you–you choose not to use yours.” (283)
[* Words in bold are in italic in the book.]
She’s charming and since she uses (needs to use) her charm to charm every one into “helping” her. And so she has rather no idea what it’s like to be just herself and be liked for it (I really liked how the spider played into that).
Miles on the other hand is “driven by a simple but quietly ferocious need to know things.” His great passion is discovering new things and he made a name for himself with his expedition to Lacao and the books he wrote about his adventures there. He’s planing another expedition now. On the outward, he’s a studious and scientific kind of man, complete with spectacles. So I really liked it when I read this: “Miles never failed to take note of a bosom.” Miles is far from the usual scholarly type who’s absent-minded and only thinks of his studies. In fact, he has quite a certain reputation among the widows of the ton for being good entertainment.
Cynthia and Miles meet at his parents’ house party in the country. But unknown to Cynthia, Miles has “met” her before. He saw her at a ball a few years back and this happened:
“But Lacao seemed to be relinquishing him only gradually, the way a dream dissolves into wakefulness. And suddenly, as Lord Albemarle stood at his elbow and pressed him for stories of warm-blooded women of easy virtue, it happened: the heat of the ballroom crush became tropical: the fluttering of silk fans in the hands of women became jungle foliage. His two worlds kaleidoscoped into one.
Which was why he reflexively turned when a flash of iridescence caught his eye. His first thought was: Morpho rhetenor Helena. The extraordinary tropical butterfly with wings of shifting colors: blues, lavenders, greens.
It proved to be a woman’s skirt.
She’s altogether too shiny for a woman, he decided, and began to turn away.
Which was when she tipped her face up into the light.
Everything stopped. The beat of his heart, the pump of his lungs, the march of time.
Seconds later, thankfully, it all resumed. Much more violently than previously. (6)
and then Miles overheard Cynthia speaking about him and other suitors. He was summarily dismissed without her even knowing him. This irked him, so when she turns up at his parents’ house party (where he would be the best catch for her), he makes sure to let her know what he thinks of her and finishes by telling her, “I’m quite out of the question for you.”
I liked the conflict in this novel. Miles great passion is studying and exploring and he really wants to go on another expedition. For that, he needs money and his father isn’t forthcoming except if he marries the daughter of a man his father wants as a business partner. The problem is, as cutting as his set-down of Cynthia was, underneath there is still the tropical heat he feels when Cynthia is around and – more the horror – he is sprouting off things like
“he could, however, say quite definitely that the effect was like watching the mist pull back from the Sussex downs in the morning in response to the first rays of the sun” (43)
in his mind (he describes Cynthia’s dress there) when before he prided himself on that
[…] he had never, for God’s sake, challenged anyone to a duel, written terrible poetry, climbed balconies […], or otherwise embarrassed himself over a beautiful woman. (4)
At the house party, Cynthia again makes Miles’s two worlds collide and turns his world upside down as she shapes up to be his other passion. But Miles also turns Cynthia’s world upside down. Thanks to Miles’s blunt dismissal of Cynthia, they have honest and, because of their underlying attraction, raw conversations which let Cynthia be herself probably for the first time in a very long time. And they discover that they are actually not all that different.
Long is really good at showing attraction
The music began. Jaunty, irresistible, demanding.
And they both had what appeared to be a simultaneous realization: they would need to touch each other.
Oddly, never had anything so innocent as a reel seemed so fraught.
They stared at each other for an absurd moment while all the other dancers began the steps.
And then Miles took her arm as though it were a fragile, breakable thing. (106)
and the small steps of falling in love in this novel. Together with Cynthia’s and Miles’s conversations, these are my favorite parts of the novel.
I liked the quiet humor in this novel:
“He reminded himself that he genuinely did not like her. The realization restored his breathing and senses to something resembling normal. And he was a Redmond, after all: his manners were as fine as cognac, as instinctive as breathing. He would say something innocuous and polite now.
“I must leave,” he said, and turned and did just that. (15)
whereas I thought the small numbers of scenes written for the laugh-out-loud fun (the scene with the statue, for example) a bit jarring in this character-driven story that explores questions of honor, station in life and marriage.
The beginning seemed a bit slow, probably because I thought the premise of this novel (how the house party came about, Miles parents needing to leave on urgent business, making him the host of the guests) slightly contrived. There were also a few examples early on when things got explained that were just shown. But later, you get a scene where Violet, Miles’s sister, picks up something from the ground, and either you know what it is because you remember it reading chapters earlier, or you have to wait for it to be revealed a few chapters later.
As you can probably see, I’m looking for things to find fault with. While Like No Other Lover is not perfect, sometimes maybe even a bit too melodramatic, I found it a very rewarding read in terms of characterization. It shows two people who thought love not necessary for marriage and makes them realize what loving someone actually means; and what it means when you have to give it up due to circumstances. Both Cynthia and Miles are better for the other. And especially Cynthia comes a long way in the end when she is finally able to face her life-long fear, the fear that fueled her dream of marriage to a wealthy man, and finds herself whole so that she can say: “She was the richest woman in the world” (347), even without nearly a penny to her name.
Verdict: A really good novel (4,5/5) with complex characters. A novel I definitely will read again to catch all of the nuances because, as surprising as that may sound considering the length of this post, there are actually things I didn’t mention.