Bear No Malice

Written by Clarissa Harwood
Review by Kristen McDermott

Harwood has followed up her much-praised debut, Impossible Saints, with a companion novel in which the antagonist of the first book has become the protagonist of Bear No Malice. The result is an intriguing study of a flawed man, Thomas Cross, who finds new meaning in his life when he meets Miranda, a sensitive, talented young woman as damaged by grief and guilt as he is. Both characters struggle with painful pasts and chafe against the rigid Edwardian social restrictions that have forced them to keep secret their deepest fears and regrets. In spite of this, their basic decency and undeniable affection for one another move them slowly but inexorably into a plot that is both a romance and a critique of the snobbery and misogyny of the time. Miranda in particular is an unforgettable character, and a rare example of a heroine who battles anxiety and mental illness but is not defined by it, nor in need of rescue.

All the characters in this novel, even the minor ones, are complex and surprising, and Harwood deftly blends social realism with fairytale lyricism in a way that is moving without being sentimental. The dialogue is a bit stilted—the characters tend to make speeches rather than banter—but the patient reader will overlook that after the first few chapters as the powerful emotional journey Thomas and Miranda experience, both together and apart, takes over.