Molly Parker is a young but very determined woman. She bluffs and retorts her way in to Cyrian Hanford's house to become his housekeeper, despite the many physical and emotional obstacles he puts in her way. The Gothic dark house, with it dark paneled rooms and odd corners is a refuge, its library a wonderland.
Cyrian Hanford is a reclusive repressed eccentric who is both awkwardly handsome and possessing of a cutting wit. He is secretive, deceptive but also generous and perceptive. Mr. Hanford at turns avoids Molly or baits her, seeking a way to push her out his life. Molly persists however not only to see through his bluster but to recognize his goodness, kindness and his desire.
Sweet Agony was incredibly funny and sexy. I found myself startling my family with my laughter and struggling to find a polite/family friendly way to explain it (there is really no good way to explain why a read-out-loud of pornographic Victorian text is hilarious, without mentioning that it was a pornographic Victorian text). Stein's trademark first person magic is used to great effect in this novel. Limited as we are by Molly's knowledge we are held in supsense and discover along with her Cyrian's secrets.
While Cyrian and Molly are both sexually inexperienced they make up for it through curiosity and hunger. Their halting but scorching sexual encounters were great. Molly and Cyrian might be mismatched in many ways with the vast gaps in their social class, education and personal wealth, but they value and treasure each other like no else would. They have both been horrifically hurt through neglect and abuse by their families of origin but in each other find kindred spirits, play and love.
As with almost all my previous Stein books, I'm left wanting more, but I trust Cyrian and Molly to have a HEA that pleases them even if it confounds others.
Disclosure: I am friendly with Charlotte Stein on twitter/FB, and just love her distinctive voice. I received a review copy pf Sweet Agony from Ms. Stein.