Page count: 352 pages
Rating: 3 stars
Date begun: November 8th, 2011
Date finished: November 12th, 2011
I picked up this romance because it was voted one of the best of 2011 by Publishers' Weekly, and because claimed it was "Terminator meets My Fair Lady." It's a surprisingly fitting description.
Joan is sent back several hundred years into the past, in a last ditch effort by humanity to save the world from an apocalyptic reality where otherworldly demons are destroying them. She is a warrior, and has to find and kill the man who doomed the world, before he has the chance to open the portals that let the demons into our reality and lost control. Shortly after completing the magic ritual that sends her to 1888, she rescues nobleman Simon Grenville from two hellhounds, and thereby gains his trust. The hellhounds were sent by Alex Reynell, Simon's childhood friend, and just the man Joan has been sent to assassinate.
Simon cut all ties with his former friend once he discovered just how dark the magic Reynell was using was, and because he had Simon's sister Eleanor possessed by a demon. Simon has taken Eleanor to the country to recuperate, and to stem the tide of gossip. He's surprised to find a bleeding, leather-clad warrior woman in a stone circle, but has surprisingly little trouble believing her stories about a where humans are prey to demons and monstrous creatures. He agrees to help Joan stop his former friend, but in order to get her close to Reynell, they will need to turn her from a savage warrior woman with knives and guns and leather trousers to a genteel Victorian lady with a corset, long gowns and impeccable manners.
While there is absolutely a romantic aspect to the novel, I think the fantasy/sci-fi elements are stronger, and would absolutely classify this as fantasy/sci-fi first, romance second. The world building is very good indeed, both the descriptions of the horrific future that Joan comes from, and the Victorian world where some people dabble in actual magic. Reynell is a very convincing and creepy villain, unsuspected by most people, and you never doubt that Joan has good cause to want him dead.
Joan is a good heroine, and while a tough warrior chick, very vulnerable in her new environment, where she quickly realizes that what little research she and her allies were able to do, is pretty much useless, and she is like a fish out of water in many ways. Simon, while he's also the hero of the piece, feels more like a supporting character for a lot of the book. He's very nice, but is never really given the depth that Joan is, and as a result, their romance becomes a less interesting aspect of the book. While I enjoyed it, and the Terminator meets My Fair Lady thing is a spot-on description, I have to disagree with Publishers' Weekly about it being one of the best romances (or fantasy/sci-fi novels) of the year. I would rank several others I've read this year, including Heart of Steel and The Black Hawk, which I read in the last few weeks, as much better.