This is a lovely story with interesting characters and a well-seeded mystery. As the title leads you to expect, this is a rags-to-riches Regency romance, but it’s both more and less than that implies.
The story begins with Annabelle slaving over steaming pots…of medicine. She lives in Whitechapel, the poorer end of London, where she and her aunt provide herbal medicine to her neighbors and anyone in need. They are certainly not wealthy, but they are well-appreciated within their community and happy with their lot in life.
In comes Lytton Staines, the Earl of Thornton, drawn to her humble infirmary through rumors of her abilities and a desperate love for his younger sister who wastes away. Between his distaste for his surroundings and the pink silk waistcoat, he appears little more than a fop.
The author mentions Georgette Heyer as one of her inspirations, and that meeting scene holds true to the feel as a mix of disaster, good intentions, and instant attraction make a mess of it. Still, Annabelle holds her ground, showing her to be just as contrary, forceful, and highly unusual as Thorn finds her.
We have access to both their perspectives and so learn things are more complicated than they would appear on the surface. Thorn is not the dandy he appears but seeking solace in the arms of a mistress who enjoys dressing him far more colorfully than he prefers. Annabelle, for all her skill, is nervous of the gentry, a reaction encouraged by her aunt and the strange nightmares plaguing her.
As you can see, from the start we have layers upon layers, some unknown even to the characters seeped in them. The seeding comes into play because I was able to figure out the answers based on subtle clues, subtle enough I needed the confirmation of the big reveal and yet present enough to make me anticipate the answers. There are several mysteries, in fact, starting with the sister’s illness and ending with the last obstacle between Thorn and Annabelle stripping away in time for a satisfying happily ever after ending.
The ending is where the author differs from Heyer. We are present at the marriage bed for an enthusiastic but not detailed culmination of the passion they’d been struggling with from their first meeting.
I enjoyed the blend of strong friendships and the themes around responsibility. This story does not constrain itself to the glitter of society. Instead, it presents a fuller picture of both the lives of the wealthy, from parties to mistresses and gambling, and the darker underside of London through ruffians and schemes. One of the strengths is in how the darkness is not confined to the poor areas and neither is the good. Whitechapel stands by their resident healer, making sure she has the necessities even though they come from meager stores.
Two quick notes: The author uses British punctuation (and I presume British spelling, but it did not stand out to me as I read both). I mention this because US readers unfamiliar with the use of British quotes might find the single quotes around dialogue startling. The second is an interesting development at the end that might be a stretch for some, but gives me hope. You’ll have to see what you think when you reach that point.
Clearly, I enjoyed the read, the characters, and the deeper-than-surface description of London. These aspects provided a rich story for our enjoyment with hints of more to come and intriguing teases about the two books that came before.
P.S. I received this title from the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.