This book was sloooooow to start. Way too slow. I generally like books that take their time, but this one just plodded along for the first 60% and I actually had to put it aside for awhile. Which is a shame because it has all the elements of a great adventure story if everything else hadn't gotten in the way. Like drawing lessons. And breakfasts from kindly ladies. Far too much of this takes place on a train, with almost nothing of importance happening. You'd get one scene of action, followed by ten scenes of inaction. Thankfully, the last 40% picked up the pace and it ended one a strong note, but it's not enough to make up for that slow start. And while (some of) those scenes of inaction are necessary to build up the relationship between the MCs... actually, let's just address that.
I'm not sure you could really call this enemies to lovers. Emlyn Strickland was the main agent responsible for putting Darrow Gardiner behind bars for counterfeiting. While he's serving his time, Darrow swears vengeance on the man, and when he gets the opportunity to get out and secure an early release, he does... nothing at all against Emlyn. Because that would jeopardize his early release. Which makes sense! I'm not complaining about that. But I never got the feeling that he ever actually hated Emlyn. Despised him for doing his job, sure, but not hate. There was little to no animosity on either of their parts, and they go on to work rather cordially with each other from the start, even if they don't necessarily trust each other, so I never really got that sense of conflict between them. Darrow may have had some ulterior motives, but for the most part, they were both working towards the same goal. I wonder if this would've worked better if it had been told entirely from Emlyn's POV, so at least then we could have doubts on Darrow's motives and therefore some conflict and therefore an actual driving force through the first half of this book.
This is also kind of insta-love because all of this takes place in a week. (Really? Just a week? Surely it had to be more like a month. Seriously, y'all, this was sloooow.) So they go from not really liking or trusting each other to loving each other in a week. Except there's really no chemistry here at all. I mean, they barely even look at each other that way. Darrow does here and there because he's been locked up for six years and he's horny, but Emlyn doesn't do so at all, and suddenly they're just going at it hot and heavy? I wasn't even sure if Emlyn was gay until that point! I say this as someone who likes low heat and hates it when MCs do nothing but lust after each other and have sex-obsessed thoughts every other page, but this isn't low heat. It's complete lack of heat. It's subarctic. (Though while I'd usually grind my teeth at the unprofessional professionalism that Emlyn shows here, they are pretty much equals by that point in the story and it didn't bother me, so at least this book accomplished that much.)
So why three stars? It was well-written and has great attention to detail for the settings and times, and once the action did finally kick into gear, I was able to enjoy it. I know this is the start of a series, and I do usually enjoy Ms. Allen's work, so I'm still looking forward to the next one.