Review – Forbidden by Nicola Cornick

Cover image, Forbidden by Nicola Cornick

I want that dress.  It’s so difficult to find clothing in that perfect tangerine shade.

Summary from Goodreads:

Scandal isn’t just for rogues, as the daring women in USA TODAY bestselling author Nicola Cornick’s scintillating new series prove…. As maid to some of the most wanton ladies of the ton, Margery Mallon lives within the boundaries of any sensible servant. Entanglements with gentlemen are taboo. Wild adventures are for the Gothic novels she secretly reads. Then an intriguing stranger named Mr. Ward offers her a taste of passion, and suddenly the wicked possibilities are too tempting to resist….

Henry Atticus Richard Ward is no ordinary gentleman. He’s Lord Wardeaux and he is determined to unite Margery with her newfound inheritance by any means-including seduction and deception. But when the ton condemns the scandalous servant-turned-countess and an unknown danger prepares to strike, will Margery accept Henry’s protection in exchange for her trust?

I’m not exactly comfortable in social situations.  I particularly hate negotiating cocktail parties and dinner events where effortless and effervescent conversation is required.  I can make interesting conversation, and most people who meet me would never suspect the depths of my discomfort, but I can never seem to rid myself of my cowering, awkward, vulnerable 12-year-old self, and I endure those events with the ever-present fear that someone, some unbelievably cool person, will discover my awkwardness and let everyone in the room know just how tragically unhip I really am.  It will be like fifth grade all over again.

As the perennially awkward girl, I adore reading triumphant stories of other awkward girls, the wallflowers, the spinsters, the not-quite-perfectly-attractive girls.  I particularly love stories about girls who are on the outside, who really do not belong, and Margery’s story is one of those.  In the beginning of the story, Margery’s life is well-ordered and fulfilling, and then she is thrust into a role she would never have chosen for herself, and she must make the best of it.  Margery is smart enough to know that she will never be accepted as she is and to know that there is no value in attempting to be anything else.  Out of love for her newly-discovered grandfather, she makes an attempt to be socially acceptable, but she has no delusions about herself, and I enjoyed her frankness and down-to-earth intelligence.  As far as female characters go, she’s perfect – an odd, but enjoyable, blend of Anne Eliot and Catherine Moreland, to put her in Jane Austen parlance – and I was a little bit sad when the story was over because I didn’t want to leave my new book friend.

Henry is also an excellent character, which is really quite amazing considering he was saddled with the often-disastrous romance hero trope: he’s been burned by love, and now he wants nothing to do with it.  In the hands of Nicola Cornick, however, Henry is everything one would expect–brooding, untrusting, and a bit cold–but also so much more.  In a way, Henry and Margery act as foils for each other.  Where Margery has decided that she cannot be anything other than she is, Henry is constantly at war with himself, stifling his passions and emotions and pursuing the cold and lonely path of duty. Margery’s character develops as she responds to the plot points in the book – she discovers she’s a long-lost countess and heiress and deals with the ramifications of that discovery; she is thrown in with Henry and falls in love with him, and she deals with the emotional ramifications of that.  By contrast, Henry’s character develops in a well-crafted arc as he learns how to reconcile the past, how to forgive himself for his follies and heal, how to be himself after all these years; his is an internal journey, and it is fascinating to read.  In Jane Austen terms, Henry is a blend of Henry Tilney, Edmund Bertram, and Frederick Wentworth.

Bottom line: Forbidden is a wonderful and beautifully-written story with action, intrigue, unexpected villainy, richly developed characters, and interesting secondary characters (Henry’s mother is delightfully awful… very Aunt Norris, I think).  I had a difficult time putting the book down, and it left me wanting more when it was over.

This book is due for release on August 21, 2012.  If you are so inclined, you can find out how to purchase it here.

*FTC Disclaimer – I received a free e-galley of this book from Harlequin HQN through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*