“In struggling with misfortune, Lies the true proof of virtue.” -Shakespeare
It is the year 1848, and a cholera outbreak has just ravaged Manchester, leaving Emma Belden an orphan, with two young siblings to care for. Left with few options, she is forced to enter the workhouse and suffer the habitual injustices commonplace to that sad institution. Her beauty and naivety a target for the unscrupulous master of the workhouse and Edward Wells, the owner of the local textile mill, Emma will be compelled to make the difficult decision between the safety of her brother and sister, and her own virtue.
Gideon, Lord de Monthaut, is instantly smitten the moment he sees Emma, despite the fact that she is on the arm of one of the most notorious blackguards in Manchester society.
Will Emma find it possible to rise above her circumstances and find love? And in the process learn the true Proof of Virtue?
Well what on earth can I say about this, other than; how impossibly brilliant it is. Leila Snow is a new to me author – now, I know that I said I wouldn’t be taking on any new authors but, the minute I heard about this I knew that I had to read it. It intrigued me, the era the plot everything and I have to say that Ms Snow does not disappoint.
Proof of Virtue opens with Emma Beldon and her very young brother and sister; James and Mary, on the streets, her brother is seriously ill and she has nothing to her name but the clothes on her back. Emma knows that if her brother doesn’t get at least some help he will die, so she takes the heart-breaking decision to go into the workhouse. I can only imagine how awful that would have been for her, once there she knows that she must find a way out, as soon as she is put to work she starts saving the measly little bit of money she is allowed to keep. While working at the mill – which in many respects was just as bad as the work house, she unwillingly draws the attention of owner Edward Wells.
“I… I’m afraid I couldn’t do that, sir,” Emma stammered. “I’ve had enough of this timid maiden act!” he exploded then quieted his voice. “I will not tolerate any more of this. We both know that I can improve your life a great deal…provided you indulge me.” Lowering his voice even further, he bent down to whisper into her ear. “Likewise, we also both know I can make it much worse should you disappoint me,” he threatened.
Edward is a vile, sadistic and evil man. In fact, I wouldn’t call him a man at all he is cockroach! He preys on Emma, he wants her as his mistress, but Emma does something that has never happened to Edward before, she says no! He soon conspires with the workhouse manager and between them manipulate and blackmail her into accepting his devil’s deal; of she lives with him and becomes his mistress – or more accurately his punchbag – and he makes sure that her brother and sister are not just cared for but are kept together. Emma really see’s no other choice, she will do anything to protect her siblings, so she agrees and from that moment on her life is never to be the same again.
Her life as Edwards mistress/sex slave is pure hell, the only way she gets through his abusive behaviour is to think of James and Mary and that she will soon be able to free them all. When we first meet Emma, she is a naïve young girl, who doesn’t know true horrors of what is yet to come, she has so many dreams of marrying a man who loves her and who will look after her. But, the moment she walks into that hell of the workhouse it’s like her light starts growing fainter by the day and on becoming Edward mistress her light is extinguished. That is until she meet’s Gideon; Lord de Monthaut.
After a chance meeting at a sweet shop on one of her rare days of freedom, when Edward has gone off on “business”. Emma was drawn to the handsome and charming gentleman, but by this time Emma has grown evasive and highly cynical, she has been too used Edwards brutality that she now see’s all men in the same way, she looks on them with fear and caution. Gideon falls head over heals for Emma, he is entranced by her beauty and grace, her innocent persona grasps his attention.
Emma bobbed a small curtsey and offered her hand. Removing his glove, the baron took her hand and pressed a brief kiss on it as their eyes met, his crinkling into a warm smile. A bolt of heat shot up Emma’s arm, and she pulled her hand quickly from his strong grasp.
Gideon is a good man, even when he finds out that she is Edwards mistress he still finds her enchanting, he doesn’t know what horror’s Edward has inflicted on her and how she suffers by his hand. That is until he wins a night with her, after talking with her he is disgusted and saddened that this bright beautiful woman has been through so much heartache and Gideon only wants to help her, in any way he can.
Gideon really is a good man, he has a reputation of absolute kindness and respect to other’s. He isn’t averse to bringing stray animals which are wounded home to take care off, I suppose in some sense he see’s Emma as a cause as another of his wounded birds. That is until he really gets to know her, their relationship is so sweet, it’s pure and honest. Ms Snow has captured their tentative romance beautifully and she keeps you guessing right up until the last page as to what happens. But, can Emma escape the cage that she has found herself in and be happy, and will she ever be able to trust a man ever again?
“When we come together, it will be because you choose it, not because I seduce you or you’re looking for comfort.”She could do nothing but nod, feeling dumbfounded at his declarations of love despite her past. She found it impossible to believe. Sweeping her gently up into his arms once again, he strode off back towards his home.
This is simply stunning, there is pure and honest anguish which oozes of the page, It’s raw and immensely real to the era and really shows what life in the Victorian era was like for regular, working-class people. It’s so realistic, it’s like you are in the work house and mill alongside Emma, and you are experiencing her turmoil and suffering. It is gloriously detailed and graphic, some may thing that for a historical romance it is too graphic of their suffering, but for me that is what makes an historical. This is how they should be, it has real meat on the bone.
I can absolutely say for certain that Ms Snow is going to go very far in this genre, her way with language and fact is mesmerizing. If you’re like me and you like grittier, brutally honest and very real historical where the romance hard fought for genuinely deserved, than this is the book for you.
It is a sophisticated story from an author who I am looking forward to reading more of, an absolute must read. Very highly recommended!
Proof of Virtue is out now and can be found at Amazon.