Book Review: ‘Safety in Numbers’ by Sophie Penhaligon

The year 2022 is set to be a big year for romance fans. Sophie Penhaligon’s latest, Safety in Numbers is among those leading the way into the New Year. For fans of her previous books, this is a delightful addition to her body of work.

Readers are introduced to Seraphina Ellis, a mathematician who is recovering from a horrific accident. Having resigned herself to a life of solitude, she continues the process of rebuilding her life in the office of a major scientific company. Her path collides with the billionaire playboy owner of the company, Milo Grant, who has a lot of bravado and not a lot of interpersonal skills in the workplace especially. Together, they form an intense, fiery romance while they heal from their pasts.

The strength in this story is in the characters. Seraphina in particular is such a relatable character that so many readers will be able to see themselves in. Having faced a life-altering event, her choices to isolate herself even from those who would support her are completely understandable. In the middle of a global health crisis in the real world, while so many of us have been compelled to embrace a life of solitude, Seraphina is a poignant heroine for our time. Her desire to lose herself in the always reliable data that numbers provide was also incredibly relatable to anyone who prefers abstract concepts to interacting with actual people.

With such a rich and complex character as Seraphina, it was an interesting choice to pair her with Miles, with far less emotional maturity than she has. Although Miles also goes on his own journey and does his own internal work, it’s still arguable that the playing field is far less than level for these two people in a relationship. His growth as a character is impressive, and although he continues to identify himself as someone of less than stellar repute, his protectiveness and support of Seraphina definitely became endearing by the story’s end.

The portrayal of disability in Safety in Numbers, well not necessarily always hitting the mark, was bold and innovative in a genre that treats sex as something that can only happen between two able-bodied people. It was refreshing to see a disabled person portrayed as having a sexual drive and having a partner dedicated to fulfilling that desire. Penhaligon’s portrayal of a traumatic brain injury was both compassionate and comprehensive. The handling of Seraphina’s internalized ableism, and having her go on a journey to process it and confront it to become her own advocate was nothing less than awe-inspiring.

Through all of Safety in Numbers’ undeniable charm, the premise was questionable to have the setting for this romance in a workplace. In 2022, after so many movements including Me Too and Time’s Up, it’s clear that workplaces are a prime setting for power differentials to be taken advantage of. Although Milo is never any less than a gentleman, there are just too many chances for abuse. Obviously, people can’t help who they’re attracted to, but there is just so much room for abuse in the workplace between an employer and an employee specifically. Although none of this is addressed in the story, it left a distinct aftertaste in the story, knowing that there was a very different way this could have gone.

In spite of its flaws, Safety in Numbers is a poignant journey examining grief and loss. Although time is devoted to allowing Seraphina to process the loss of her mother, she is also allowed to process the loss of her former life and mourn the person she was before her accident. Milo too, for his part is also allowed to process the emotional and physical neglect he experienced as a child, and was able to reflect on how that left a lasting impact on his life. Although not always fully realized, it added depth to the story to add these elements to the story’s main characters.

Safety in Numbers is a delectable romantic romp for fans of the romance genre. While not perfect, Penhaligon has succeeded in telling yet another sweet love story with just the right amount of spice. It was a rich addition to the romance genre by making characters faced with clearly relatable struggles and desires. Romance fans will find a lot to love in this endearing story, and will find an even more endearing couple to cheer for.

Safety in Numbers is available now.

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