My rating: 2 of 5 stars
In order for me to really enjoy a book, I need to feel like the characters are real. That’s especially true of romance novels, where plot and prose can sometimes be iffy things. While Never a Mistress, No Longer a Maid features an interesting premise and sometimes-inspired prose, there were too many holes in the story and deviations from period language and mores to make the story really come alive.
If a book is going to rely on the met-cute-separated-reunited trope, then the initial meeting really has to stand out, and for the right reasons. The initial meeting between Ned and Iris/Jane that is the catalyst for the entire book was too rushed, and the characters themselves were not nearly fleshed out enough for me to understand their motivations. How and why Jane, an unmarried woman from a noble family, would even be in Spain(I may have the country wrong) during wartime, working as a “surgeon” to begin with, much less why she’d agree to have sex with a man with she knew not at all, is still a mystery to me. I don’t mind women in historical romances doing things that would seem verboten according to the mores of the day, so long as I understand why. I never did, with Jane. Nor did I understand why she made such an impression on Ned that he’d ostensibly spend 6-7 years looking for her. What that means, unfortunately, is that the rest of the book is a leap of faith.
It doesn’t get much more sensible from there. Characters use language that is jarringly out-of-period (I counted several “okays”). Ned’s 130 siblings are dumped on us for no better reason than to set them up for books of their own. The book also relies more on external conflict than the internal conflict that a premise like this is rich with; when you’ve established a female “surgeon” (no, she’s not a surgeon, and I’m unclear as to why she’s being called such) who has traveled to a foreign country during wartime, who then sleeps with and becomes pregnant by a man we’re led to believe is a spy (not that it’s ever really referred to again), you have enough plot for a wonderful book — there’s no need to gild the lily by throwing in everything but the kitchen sink.
That being said, the author’s voice is enjoyable. The pacing of the book is excellent, and secondary characters are well-developed. It’s a quick read.