One Night in Hartswood by Emma Denny
November 7, 2023 by Mills & Boon
Review by Kate H.
One Night in Hartswood begins with both main characters lying to one another about who they are. William de Foucart, aka Penn, is fleeing an oppressive marriage arranged by his abusive father who needs this alliance and is repulsed by his son’s preference for men. Penn is posing as a servant. Raff Barden, who is supposed to be hunting his sister’s fleeing fiancé, meets Penn in the woods and claims to be a simple tracker, capable of escorting Penn to safety far away from Hartswood. Such a premise starts us off with immediate tension: who will learn the truth first? And when they learn it, what will happen? Harwood is a historical romance in the loosest of sense. It doesn’t feel anchored in 14th century England, except for a few scenes and historical references. If I hadn’t read the description, I would have thought I was reading a fantasy (minus the fantastic) That didn’t bother me, but I imagine readers who are more versed in history might find it annoying.
What did bother me was the pacing. I love stories of journeys, whether they are escapes like Hartwood or travels toward a singular goal. However, this section of the book plodded on for too long with no real purpose than to draw out the development of the relationship between Penn and Raff. Their early instant attraction is replaced by a sturdier love, but this in turn is frustrated by their need to continue their lies and ponder about the lies to themselves as they get closer to Raff’s homeland. It was great stuff, in moderation, but the length of this section attenuated it for too long. In my opinion, it would have worked better if the journey had felt less blow by blow and the conflict between the two lovers, when it finally came, was given more time.
One of the best characters in the novel is Raff’s older brother, Ash. Both Raff and Penn are earnest, “good” characters. Their skills even complement one another, as they learn on the road. Ash, on the other hand, is a little broken, a little defective, and I think that makes him stick out like a glittering diamond. I hope he appears in a sequel.
One Night in Hartswood is a debut novel by Emma Denny. I look forward to her next book!