Bi Book Club: Bound with Love
By Siobhan Ball
February 21, 2023
Photo credit: Pexels/Monstera
Hello bi bookworms, we have another Regency romance! This time combining a sensitive portrayal of trauma recovery with tender and kinky erotica. Megan Mulry's Bound with Love explores the history between Nora White and Lady Vanessa Cambury as they forge a path forward together after the discovery that Nora's daughter, long thought to be stillborn, is still alive.
A survivor of violent abuse from her aristocratic husband, Nora, escaped to England under an assumed identity, living with the surviving family of her lost lover. She is nursed back to health by her widowed sister-in-law, Lady Vanessa Cambury, and the two fall in love and build a life together in England. Becoming a celebrated portrait painter, the second mother to Vanessa's children, and founding an artists' colony with her lover; all giving Nora's life meaning and purpose, but the loss of her stillborn daughter still hangs over her — especially when the child's birthday rolls around.
Nora and Vanessa's idyllic country life is turned on its head, however, when a letter arrives from a friend and would-be patron. In addition to soliciting a commission for a family portrait of her son and his new family, the Duchess included a warning; Nora's daughter is in fact alive, and currently living in the Duchess' household, along with her husband and infant daughter. The shock of learning this was hard enough, but a tearful confession from Vanessa soon after, makes everything so much worse. It turns out that Vanessa has always known there was a possibility Nora's daughter was alive but chose to keep silent, knowing that if even a suggestion of this had made its way to Nora, she'd never have agreed to leave the country with them — and if Nora had stayed behind, her husband would have found her, and killed her.
At first, Nora's daughter wants nothing from her. Anna is convinced that Nora chose to abandon her, and feels nothing but anger and resentment toward her. Meanwhile, Nora and Vanessa have their own relationship issues to work through, as do Vanessa and her daughter Georgie — a gender non-conforming adventurer who seems to have no interest in romance or settling down. But because this is a romance novel, it all comes together in a happy ending, with the beginning of Vanessa and Georgie's reconciliation setting up the next novel in the series.
For the most part, this was a delightful, feel-good read. The flashbacks that reveal Nora's traumatic past were handled sensitively, and the ones dealing with the beginning of her relationship with Nora are sweet. The sex scenes are a mixture of tender and erotic with an interesting exploration of power dynamics, switching, and the difference between roleplay and deep emotional submission. By choosing to set the novel in an artists' colony the author was able to create a queer and sex-positive environment that was still period appropriate — think Byron and the Shelley's, only because it's a fictional setting all of the toxicity is taken out. There are multiple queer side characters and various polyamorous and open relationships going on around Nora and Vanessa, and their own enjoyment of the occasional threesome makes a cameo that's casually sexy and adds to the overall eroticism of the novel.
However, despite this, I found it very hard to like Vanessa, and that did interfere with my enjoyment a little as I read it. Her decisions and emotional reactions make sense for a woman of her time and social position, but a lot of them are very selfish and occasionally come across as narcissistic. Her relationship with Georgie is controlling, with every independent decision her daughter makes interpreted as a slight against her, and Nora even acknowledges that Vanessa sees Georgie as a reflection of herself. It's an interesting exploration of what internalized misogyny can look like, as Vanessa spends part of the novel beginning to grapple with her cognitive dissonance — how her ideals on what women can and should be allowed to be don't match up with her very conventional image of what happiness for Georgie would look like. An image Georgie very much does not share and resents her mother trying to impose on her.
Similarly, while there were perfectly rational reasons for her decision to keep Nora in the dark over the rumors about her child, Vanessa claims her motivations were actually selfish as they were primarily based on her desire to keep Nora with her. Something which doesn't entirely make sense as the threat to Nora's life was imminent, and the rumors were both implausible and sparse enough that there was no way to follow up on them and find the baby. In a situation like that other motivations aren't really relevant, because there's no way to know for sure how you would've reacted if they were your only consideration. By casting herself as the selfish villain and tearfully begging Nora's forgiveness, Vanessa managed to center herself in Nora's shock and grief. Vanessa goes through significant growth during the novel and is undergoing a much more mundane crisis of her own, but it's honestly hard to root for her at times.
Overall I really do recommend this novel. Vanessa and Nora's bisexuality is handled really well, as a fluid well-integrated part of their character. The setting, and broader queer and polyamorous social network, something that's explored in the rest of the series, was interesting and fun. Nora's relationship with her daughter, and the healing they both find through this, was touching and felt realistic, as did the depiction of her earlier recovery and the way her past influenced the development of her relationship.
The ending was satisfying, and if you want more of those characters and the world there's an entire series focusing on different couples, foursomes, etc. who are part of it (disclaimer, I haven't read them yet) so there's none of that dissatisfaction that comes from getting to the end of an enjoyable standalone.