I'm a librarian who loves anime, manga, and reading a wide variety of genres.
I love the pretty dresses that grace the covers of many historical romances. I also hate them, because every book tends to look the same. When I spotted this in Samhain's New Releases section, the author's name sounded familiar, but I couldn't remember whether I'd heard bad things or good things. Then I spotted a post on Gossamer Obsessions, describing Solomon as “one of the sweetest, handsomest, smartest, amazingest, chemist-tailor-detective Beta heroes EVER,” and decided that I at least needed to read the excerpt. I love sweet romance heroes. And, oh, was he ever.
Serena is an ex-prostitute turned inn keeper and has a reputation for knowing all sorts of criminal types. Solomon, a chemist with a passion for dyes and clothing, asks for her help in finding a family heirloom, a pair of earrings, without which his sister refuses to get married. Serena takes the job, hoping that this will be enough to repay her debt to Solomon. Five years earlier, a young, drunken Solomon saved her by giving her 125 pounds, and she has been looking for him ever since. Part of her is besotted with him, and part of her just wants the debt repaid and him out of her life. Even if he doesn't remember her or the debt she owes him.
That's just the very beginning. Later, there are threats from Serena's horrible father, threats from Serena's former business partner, spies, and a few enormous secrets.
The beginning of this book was crammed incredibly full of stuff. It was overwhelming. What carried me through was my instant love of Solomon and Serena, and I'm so glad about that. But, wow, that beginning. Serena had been looking for Solomon for years, and he finally showed up on her doorstep. Not long after that, Serena's father, who hadn't visited her in years, showed up on her doorstep. And, not long after that, Serena's friend and former business partner, Rene, suddenly showed up and threatened her. All this time, and suddenly everyone showed up all at once. It was enough to make my head spin. And, oh yes, there were still the earrings to worry about.
There was more to come, but I can't talk about most of it because of spoilers. I can at least say that everything turned out to be related in the end. At the time, though, it seemed like an awful lot to keep track of and remember, and I wasn't sure I was up to the challenge.
But, like I said, I loved Solomon and Serena. Especially Solomon. He was so incredibly adorable. He was proud of his work but sure that a lovely woman like Serena would be repulsed by his scarred hands. He wasn't good at speaking up for himself but jumped in to defend others, even though the confrontations made him feel a bit shaky afterward. He'd spent a year and a half mourning the death of his twin in the Napoleonic Wars, had occasionally felt suicidal, and sometimes wished that it had been him that had died instead, because he thought his brother was better, more charming, and all-around more wonderful than himself. He admired and enjoyed Serena's strength and fire.
When I realized that Serena was both an ex-prostitute and an aristocrat, I was confused and wondered how that had happened. As it turned out, it happened due to the choices of both Serena and her father. Young Serena, in love and feeling stifled, did something monumentally stupid, and her horrible father opted not to lift one finger to help her. Serena was left with a boatload of trust issues and a desire to be as independent as possible. She couldn't trust her father, and she soon learned she couldn't trust Rene, her oldest and dearest friend. Solomon was a sweet man who defended her, even knowing about her past, but he might destroy her too, if she let him in too much.
I hurt for these characters, and I haven't even mentioned the book's other couple. I can't say much about them, because spoilers. I will mention that it was a gay couple, and that I was sad that, while Serena and Solomon had the option of getting married and being open about their relationship with their families, this couple couldn't. As nerve-wracking as Serena and Solomon's relationship could be, I preferred it to the other couple's, with its boatloads of lies, secrets, and angst. So painful.
Friends and family did an excellent job of hurting each other in this book. Thankfully, they also did an excellent job of helping each other and making up for the hurts they caused. All in all, I loved A Lily Among Thorns, even though I sometimes had trouble following what was going on in terms of the history and all the many things Serena had to remember to take care of. I need to see about picking up one of Lerner's other books.
(Original review, with read-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)