Finally I'm getting around to writing a real review for this amazing, wonderful book. I've read it several times, and it is still my #1 favorite romance novel. Five stars is not enough.
Rica der Esslingen is the daughter of a German, Catholic baron. She acts as mistress of her Father's estate due to the fact that her mother was killed in a brutal attack that also left Rica's twin sister, Etta, mentally unstable and physically (sexually) destroyed. Rica is free-spirited, romantic, and intellectual. She spends a good deal of her time with the midwife and herbalist, Helga. This is where she meets Solomon ben Jacob.
Solomon is the the fourth son of a Jewish merchant, whose father has given him permission to study medicine. As a physician in training, he hopes to learn the herbalist's secrets from Helga during his sabbatical from his classes at Montpelier.
Despite the social and class differences that separate them, Solomon and Rica are instantly drawn to one another. It's a powerful, almost mystical magnetic pull that they are unable to resist, despite how much they try (and OH WOW, they certainly do try!).
Barbara Samuels is an absolute master at dialogue and characterization. The interaction between Solomon and Rica was brilliant, vivid and real
. They are best friends and lovers despite the diverse social ties that bind them. Their bond feels destined, written in the stars, unbreakable... regardless of whatever odds are stacked against them. And the odds are most definitely STACKED against them. True to the era and setting, any sort of socialization (much less a romance) between a noble Catholic maiden and the son of a Jewish merchant was not only forbidden... it could mean death. Especially since this novel is taking place during the panic of the spread of the Black Plague through Europe, when antisemitism was rampant. Samuels writes very action-packed scenes to illustrate the very real danger these characters face as they fall desperately in love. And in the scenes where Rica and Solomon are able to be together, their passion is incredibly well written and heart-achingly beautiful.
An arranged marriage to a brutal man, violence, serious illness, prejudice, death, politics and religion are only a few of the hurdles these characters face on their journey. And through it all they are determined to find some way back to each other. Right up until the end, their HEA will seem impossible. But it comes. And in a way the reader least expects.
I also really loved how the book touched on the theme of the love of a father for his children, as both Solomon's and Rica's fathers play significant roles in the book.
The secondary characters are also very vivid and real, and you will come to know all of them very well. You will fall in love with Solomon and Rica. If you are a fan of romance, read this book. Even if it's not your usual genre preference.