Twelve years ago, Civil War veteran and battlefield surgeon Benedict Moore traveled to Paris with his family to recover both from the horrors of war and almost dying of malaria and malpractice. There, he met a girl, Amelie St. James, who changed his life. Put it back on track. And they fell in love. But the fates were against them. Now twelve years, another war (this time the Franco-Prussian War), and the Siege of Paris are between them they meet again. Now he’s a doctor, a neurologist, a completely new field of study and he’s in Paris to recruit talent for a new center in New York City. She’s a prima ballerina in the Paris Opera ballet corps. More than that, she’s St. Amie, the dancer who brought light to Paris after the siege.
But when another dancer is found floating in the Seine, the woman’s ghost seeks out Amelie to help her. And she has no one else to turn to other than her former love. But in order to save Amelie’s reputation, they must pretend to be courting. A pretense that shows every sign of becoming real.
So first off, I need to state that this book is actually part of a series and this book will spoil the first book in the series JSYK. You don’t need to have read that book to understand this book, but I think it would likely help things. And I’m not sure why they aren’t linked.
Also this book does need trigger warnings. The author actually includes a blanket warning at the start of the book and does provide actual triggers on her website. So I’m just going to link to them here - https://www.dianabiller.com/the-brightest-star-in-paris - and call it good. I really wish more authors would do this. It’s really not that hard.
The story itself is a well-researched slow-burn second chance romance with paranormal elements and a hint of mystery. The set up is well done and there are a lot of flashbacks to their first meeting/romance in Paris. I really loved the behind the scenes look into the realities of life in Paris, particularly the life of a dancer in that time. That said, I felt that the ending was very rushed and parts of the conflict were sort of handwaved away. But I also liked one major aspect of the ending, the hero respected the heroine’s wishes to save herself (which is an ongoing theme in this story so not really a spoiler).
The characters were deep and unusually for HistRom set in this time both over the age of thirty. Ben is a caring doctor from a loving family and definitely a bit of a beta hero. He lets Amelie take the lead in their relationship and he’s enchanted by her strength and ability. It’s lovely to see. Amelie is more complex. She’s caring and kind and loving, but she’s also a survivor, manipulative when she needs to be, often ruthlessly practical, and occasionally frustratingly stubborn. It makes sense in context. She’s got a lot of the “No one saves you but yourself” attitude so even when there’s an easy solution in front of her she doesn’t always take it. She’s also got some well-founded trust issues which make her wary of help. With reason.
I was surprised by the paranormal elements in this story since the blurb didn’t really indicate them. I like paranormal, don’t get me wrong, but I also like to know what my expectations are going in. That said, I really did like all of the ghost characters. They felt real. I’m still a little shaky on the solution to the problem… which goes back to the rushed ending.
In all, it was a fun book that I read quickly. But it’s not a perfect book and could have stood for about another 30-50 pages to wrap up all of the loose threads more satisfactorily and clearly.
If this is your jam, you can get it here.
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I received an ARC of this book via NetGalley