This comes close to visually representing how I felt reading this.
I'll let you soak that in for a sec.
What stupid children they had been, to cause each other such pain and then to hold on to their wounds so fiercely.
The book page count for this claims it is 341 pgs, my friends, I blew through this like it was an author newsletter free story. The first half felt like one huge exposed raw nerve. There are three main characters, Bryony, Leo, and India. The research! The scenery! The setting! I saw some reviews claiming they didn't like how much detail the author went into but I salivated over finally feeling the time and place of a historical story.
The writing and feel of this is a bit different from most in this genre, I can't find the right words to describe it but we get an intense focus on Bryony and Leo with cut-ins to their past experiences that gives you the hows and whys of what they are feeling and how they've reached this place in their relationship. The time duration is actually pretty short of what we get from them together in the present time but with memories from the past relayed, it felt like they were together longer.
While the first half is a raw exposed nerve, the second half is the balm being applied to the wound, done slowly and carefully. The second half slowed down a little bit for me as Bryony's past and why her personality is the way it is never quite jived or fit for me. Young and impressible is going to have to extremely work for you here and carry any good will you'll want to show Bryony. Bryony is a tough one to crack and she is all those characteristics we see in some broody heroes, rigid, harsh, still waters run deep, and etc. Even though her personality was a little cold and I kind of head tilted at the reason given for it, I was still able to stick with the character.
Now, the reason I'm giving this three stars is because of their sexual relationship. Leo has loved Bryony for a loooong time and just thinking about his memories, thoughts, feelings, and actions makes my eyes want to water, But, the majority of their sex scenes (mostly remembered but also a present time one) had me cringing away. I fall more on the side of reading romance for the sexual tension but, for me, sex is an intricate part of a relationship and theirs was off-putting to say the least. I'm going to put in spoiler tags why I cringed ..
During their marriage, Bryony keeps herself emotionally walled off to Leo and when he tries to be sexual with her, she does her best to not respond, obviously making the whole experience awful. He decides to then start coming to her room after she is asleep and proceeds to have sex with her while she is half asleep. Yeah, this falls into a non-consensual discussion for me because when she is fully coherent, she has made her wishes regarding intimacy between them well known. There is also a present situation where, albeit somewhat delirious, Leo grabs her and penetrates her in a move that felt, again, non-consensual.
So, given how I felt about their sexual relationship, this couple had a cringe worthy feel to them and I couldn't feel the gushy fuzzies that put couples near and dear to my heart. However, like I said, on the other side of the coin, the writing is superb, addicting, and raw but when I will think back on this story, a cringe will probably be my first reaction but in the complexity of my own thoughts and feelings, second will be watery eyes over Leo's feelings and some of his actions.