If you haven’t read Thomas’ first two books, you need to go and get them and read them ASAP. If this is your first Thomas book, you won’t be sorry. It’s loosely connected to Private Arrangements and Delicious, but not part of any sort of series and stands very well on its own. It’s also a bit timely in that it’s set in the Swat Valley in what is today Pakistan, where various rebellious groups and militants are staging their own uprising, though the setting is in 1897 and not the present day. I must point out as well that the summary, while not terribly inaccurate, doesn’t really give the best description of the book.
The story opens with the globe trotting doctor being chased down in the mountains northwest of the Swat Valley due to the rumor about a dying father. The doctor, Bryony Asquith, is disbelieving of the news as it comes from her sister through her ex-husband. Her sister Callista has been trying to get the two of them back together for the past three years in various ways and hasn’t succeeded. Though not believing her father is ill, Bryony still leaves with Leo Marsden, her ex-husband.
Leo wants to get Bryony back to London as soon as possible, but it becomes apparent that he is ill. Forced to wait for a good number of days so Leo can get over a bout of malaria, Bryony is forced to face her past, not only with Leo, but with people not there with her, but in her memories. When Leo recovers there is a tentative rekindling of their romance that confuses both in many ways, and various truths about their marriage and annulment come to light while on their journey out of British India.
What happens instead of a steady trip is an uprising with the local tribes in the Swat Valley and with Bryony and Leo caught at a frontier fort where Leo is forced to fight against the rebels and Bryony is thrust into the role of battlefield surgeon and the need to overcome their fears in the midst of this crisis to become truly happy.
Writing a woman doctor in 1897 is probably a hard sell. Especially since said woman doctor, through nothing of her own doing, had a childhood full of grief and loss that has shaped her into a very aloof and hard-hearted woman. Bryony carries her emotions so close and is nearly afraid of loss that more often than not she closes herself off to caring rather than risk emotional pain. Bryony’s growth and change through out the book is raw and heart wrenching as she is anything but the unfeeling automaton that she tries desperately to portray in her own defense to hide her true feelings.
Where Bryony is logical and emotionally distant, Leo is warm, open and has a spirit that others want to copy. When they marry, many people asked why he would choose her. Leo has always been blessed by a sunny disposition, a brilliant mathematical mind and an ease of manner that has made him well loved by society. His family had the neighboring estate to the Asquiths’ and as he grew up he wanted to bring some light into Bryony’s life, though she was always focused on escaping her childhood she never noticed his overtures.
Like Thomas’ first two books, the history is told through the use of flashbacks, though it’s more a small device and expands on more of the character’s motivations rather than a major part of the narrative. The growth and change of both Bryony and Leo is the main conflict of the story and it is echoed by the flashbacks and the Swat Valley uprising around them. The romance takes the center stage and isn’t overshadowed by any of these other elements of the story.
Perhaps what sets this story apart is the details. The setting, the memories that Bryony holds so close, Leo’s personality and charm, and many other small things, while maybe not the truest to period, give the characters things to talk about and work through together to get to their happiness. The story also shows very well through aspects of Bryony’s that life isn’t easy, there is heartbreak, loss, and grief and it’s the choices that you make that grant you happiness, not what is given or done to you. Both Bryony and Leo come to this conclusion and in the end give an emotional romance and a very satisfying ending.
Their marriage lasted only slightly longer than the honeymoon—to no one’s surprise, not even Bryony Asquith’s. A man as talented, handsome, and sought after by society as Leo Marsden couldn’t possibly want to spend his entire life with a woman who rebelled against propriety by becoming a doctor. Why, then, three years after their annulment and half a world away, does he track her down at her clinic in the remotest corner of India?
Leo has no reason to think Bryony could ever forgive him for the way he treated her, but he won’t rest until he’s delivered an urgent message from her sister—and fulfilled his duty by escorting her safely back to England. But as they risk their lives for each other on the journey home, will the biggest danger be the treacherous war around them—or their rekindling passion?
Read an excerpt.