I've had a couple of days to stew on my particular flavor of disappointment with this book, and I've figured it out: Val is not a romance-novel-versioI've had a couple of days to stew on my particular flavor of disappointment with this book, and I've figured it out: Val is not a romance-novel-version of Lymond (The Game of Kings), and above and beyond his own faults, I particularly fault him for that.
See, the set-up was there in the earlier books! He's there, swanning about, machinations left and right, actions shading everywhere from light grey to black, with these interesting peeks of ulterior motive, grander plan, genuine affection ruthlessly disguised, etc etc etc! I wanted him to have done the bad things in full cognizance of their badness, judging them worthwhile in pursuit of his larger, not-bad goal!
Instead I'm left with a deeply damaged man who is only barely aware of the depth of pain his actions cause, who doesn't care about that pain even if he recognizes it not because he has deemed it a necessary casualty in pursuit of his goal, but because he just...doesn't...care? It's not even quite that because he was so damaged and hurt and no one saved him, he doesn't care if anyone else is hurt; it's more that because he has walled himself off so much because of that damage/hurt so that he can't be hurt again, he finds fault with people who have not managed to do the same.
And even with all that, it's not a dealbreaker for my enjoyment of a story, because the resolution of that, of taking a character from such depths to a place where he can acknowledge being loved and love in return, can totally be fascinating. And what would make it even greater is to take the character from that point of catharsis and actually play out how that changes him and his actions - how does he live his life once cracked open, once ruthless pursuit of his ambitions with no thought of collateral damage is an option? But in this book, we only got the catharsis at the very end and the merest whiff of what those changes might be, and it just felt like all of the build-up and none of the payoff.
Bridget was lovely, and even with all of the ::handwaves at wall o' text above:: that with Val, I even found it convincing that she could and did fall in love with him, even in the depths of his dickbaggishness. But this is the second employer/employee Ye Olde Historicale Romance I've read in the last few months, and the other one (A Gentleman's Position) did a much better job of addressing how that business(?) relationship would or would not change once bangin' and feelings were involved. (Yes, that book has the added complication of it being two dudes without marriage as an option for merging their lives, but there was so much in this book about how Bridget enjoyed her work as a housekeeper and took pride in doing it well, and I felt like that narrative thread was unresolved beneath the umbrella of "marriage yayz!")
All that being said, I devoured this book. And *that* being said, the reason this book does not rank any higher (and maybe shouldn't be ranked as high as it is), is the preeeeeetty egregious slapstick Arab serving boy that Val has bought and installed in his household. He's a comparatively minor character, but the difference in how he, his dialogue, his plot, and his motivations are handled (sketchy and surfacey, if I'm being generous), compared to everyone else? Well. That's a little embarrassing for the author, now, isn't it? At first I was excited to see a historical romance novel acknowledge that there is a world full of people beyond white folks in England, even in 17mumblemumble, but the difference in care in how this character was written and how others, even of similar screen time and narrative importance, were handled was pretty not great. This is not meant to say, "Stop writing characters of color in historical romance!" It's meant to say, "Do, and do better." ...more
I have a friend who hates unresolved situational tension in his narratives - i.e. the time between seeing the gun on the mantelpiece and it actually bI have a friend who hates unresolved situational tension in his narratives - i.e. the time between seeing the gun on the mantelpiece and it actually being fired, knowing it's going to go off but not how or when or why - and I kept thinking how much he would hate this book. Even as this is a book about goddamn grownups who have nice things happen to them, there is the inevitable tension.
There are large stretches where the author takes time and detail to describe how wonderful everything is, how unexpectedly happy everyone is, and you know - you KNOW- that if everyone is this delighted in the first hundred pages of a romance novel, it's all going to go to shit sooner rather than later. I don't have my friend's aversion, but feeling the other shoe hovering closer the more the author lavished detail on small moments of joy was constant.
The author repeats this format (everything's so great! have we mentioned how great everything is? because it's great! AWFUL THING HAPPENS) a couple of times, and you see the awful thing coming a long ways off every time, but what is really nice is that the characters are, as aforementioned, goddamn grownups. Places where, in other romance novels, the awful thing would be exacerbated by the protagonists not talking to each other or doubling down on avoidance, this book explicitly has that conversation. There are (comparatively) nuanced emotional responses to things! It's lovely.
In some ways, I want to go back and be able to read this book for the first time again, but this time I'd let myself relax a little more, enjoy the loving descriptions of nice things happening to people, because they're never taken away, the awful bits are resolved with people being people and not elaborate contrivances, and no one is ever punished, narratively speaking, for daring to want happiness and to reach out and grab it when it's presented to them.
(Okay, yes, pretty much ALL of the awful things could have been avoided/diminished if the hero had sucked it up and had that one goddamn conversation at the beginning of things, but it does make sense, based on how he and the heroine start out, that they're not emotionally close enough for him to be comfortable making himself that vulnerable just yet. There were certainly other opportunities for that conversation after their relationship grew but before the climactic awful thing, which made me want to shake him just a scooch, but overall a solid B+/A- grownupping for them both.)
Also also, it was lovely to have a heroine nearing 40 (practically dead in Ye Olde Historicale Romancelandia) and a hero even older (47? 57? can't remember), and if it means people acting like goddamn grownups instead of hysterical children, then, well, bring on the older protagonists in great heaping waves, please and thank you kindly. ...more
I picked this up because I was going to Pembrokeshire, where this novel is set, and I do so enjoy coordinating my reading material like that. I'd hadI picked this up because I was going to Pembrokeshire, where this novel is set, and I do so enjoy coordinating my reading material like that. I'd had several Kearsley books recommended to me as dense, romantic (both big and small r) reads, so why not?
I admit up front that I was reading for the setting and locale, and it didn't disappoint. I'm not sure the plot itself would've held my interest if it weren't for the lavish descriptions of scenery and setting, but it was fine. I'm not the right audience for a heroine whose overwhelming emotion (and plot driver) is grief over her stillborn baby so fierce she's wound shatteringly tight, especially when it's mixed with slightly hokey mysticism.
Still, I very much liked the handling of small town snobberies and tangled relationships; I very much liked the glacial - but still present - romance that ended in a lunch date and an exploration of the protagonists' very different - and equally valid, even in their treatment by the author - points of view on life, rather than declarations of eternal love. The primary female friendship felt a little forced, even as I was glad it was there. It, much like several things in this book, was more tell than show, making the book feel flimsier than I was expecting. I'll be back for more (especially as Kearsley's books are so often on sale on amazon), but my expectations are scaled back a bit in terms of plot. Still dig her scenesetting, though. ...more
Loved the setting, the political intrigue, the conflict between duty and desire; couldn't give two rips about the actual romance/relationship betweenLoved the setting, the political intrigue, the conflict between duty and desire; couldn't give two rips about the actual romance/relationship between the hero and heroine. I was all, "Yeah yeah yeah let's take it as given that they're in luuuuuuurve; let's skip the mooning over each other and/or sexin' each other up bits and get back to the part where they deal with the problems created by their luuuuurve!" Based on the only other thing I've read by this author (the short story in the Gambled Away: A Historical Anthology anthology), I have a sneaking suspicion that this may be a common complaint from me about her writing, but the rest of it is so engaging, I will gladly overlook so-so romance for excellent world-building and intriguing plot conflicts. ...more
"Prunella had once thought life in London would be all flirting and balls and dresses, hitting attentive suitors on the shoulder with a fan, and break"Prunella had once thought life in London would be all flirting and balls and dresses, hitting attentive suitors on the shoulder with a fan, and breakfasting late on bowls of chocolate. She sighed now for her naivete. Little had she known that life in London was all hexes and murder and thaumaturgical politics, and she would always be rising early for some reason or other!"
This book is a goddamn delight. It is the love child of Georgette Heyer and one of a better variety of fantasy novels. It's a little slow to get going, almost as if the author is impatient with all the world-building setup she has to do in order to get to the story she wants to tell, so she dumps it all in one place. But, oh, once she gets going, it's *marvelous.*
I love that it takes the domestic concerns of women as seriously as it does the politics of men, not to mention showing how inextricably entwined they are, when they're not one and the same. I love that it gives off some of the same effervescent fluff of Heyer novels while featuring a main cast of almost exclusively characters of color, something Heyer's books could never dream of. I love that those characters of color have wildly varied backgrounds and experiences; too often in books set in this era in England, if you have any characters of color, you get one - pick Asia, Africa, or India, but certainly not all three.
Basically this book gave me all the gossamer delight of a certain brand of fantasy and/or historical romance novel with none of the unpleasant race and gender nonsense that are often part and parcel of those genres. Would read a frillion more books like this. ...more
I settled into this book much better when I realized this was not supposed to be Rainbow Rowell's version of Cath's fanfic from Fangirl, that this wasI settled into this book much better when I realized this was not supposed to be Rainbow Rowell's version of Cath's fanfic from Fangirl, that this was instead Rainbow Rowell's take on a Chosen One magical narrative in the fictional universe she'd created in Fangirl. As that, I enjoyed it quite a bit. It just took me a minute to adjust tracks, because this, while a lovely story with strong fanfic overtones, is not fanfic. You can see fanfic from here; it contains many of the same beats as fanfic, but it puts the emPHAsis on the wrong syLAbble to be fanfic in style.
So, yeah. Ditch the idea that it's an original fiction spin on fanfiction; read it as pure fantasy, and you'll have a good time. I particularly enjoyed what it did with its female characters and characters of color even in a narrative ostensibly focused around two white dudes in luuuuurve. Fanfic could stand to see more of that.
(In comparison, see The Captive Prince for a book that hits fanfic beats with original characters/plot, in my experience.)...more
Good enough to overcome my current aversion to young adult/coming of age narratives. Good enough depiction of anxiety to make me have to put the bookGood enough to overcome my current aversion to young adult/coming of age narratives. Good enough depiction of anxiety to make me have to put the book down a couple of times, but good enough to make me pick it back up again almost immediately after shaking out my yayas. I remain ambivalent on its depiction of fandom, fannish impulses, relationships/connections among fans (almost entirely neglected) and particularly its depiction of original fiction as inherently better/more mature than fanfiction. It makes many interesting statements about the value of fanfiction, then undercuts a lot of that at the end. Not entirely, but enough to make me sigh in frustration. Overall, I'm glad I finally read it. ...more
It's a good thing I'm here for the plot and not the chemistry, because *oooooooh* I find this type of hero offputting. Sure, he's ultimately respectfuIt's a good thing I'm here for the plot and not the chemistry, because *oooooooh* I find this type of hero offputting. Sure, he's ultimately respectful of the heroine, but that only comes after multiple scenes of him deliberately pushing her boundaries because he enjoys seeing her angry and/or because he can't stand being told no. It takes the heroine going nearly catatonic with trauma not once but TWICE for him to finally back off. I'll accept her word that she ultimately found him attractive, but the first quarter of the book had my shoulders around my ears every time they interacted.
And, okay, fine, yes, once they ultimately got around to the sexy bits, I found Hoyt's tendency for non-historical-romance traditional sex well-served. Let's hear it for masturbation in front of a partner, dirty talk as its own act, turning the repeated asking of consent into a sexy thing, oral sex - the whole shebang!
Also wow was this book a lot heavier-handed than the previous in its sequel baiting. As it's for Montgomery's book, I find I mind less, and it is always in service of the plot, but it's a little unusual. He continues to do legit bad things, which is narratively v. v. interesting to me. ...more
Another solid historical, with well-fleshed characters, interesting plotting, diverse sex, and unremarkable chemistry. Yeah, we're in a bit of RomanceAnother solid historical, with well-fleshed characters, interesting plotting, diverse sex, and unremarkable chemistry. Yeah, we're in a bit of Romancelandia when it comes to plausibility, but stringent historical accuracy is not why I read romances. I enjoy the mixed-class romances, even as I'm a little, "...really? Reeeeeeeally?" about it all.
(view spoiler)[And, yes, I'm still here for the Duke of Montgomery, who has that merest soupcon of Lymond/Wimsey air, i.e. blond fop who hides behind appearances to outsmart everyone, and I am definitely looking forward to his book, which makes me all the more impressed that Hoyt goes as far as she does in making him legit villainous. He saved the day a bit in the previous book, even after being all ominous and control-y, but here he is outright the source of bad things that happen to the protagonists. I wouldn't be surprised if there ends up being a deeper motive we find out in his book, but in the meantime, I'm kinda enjoying him being exactly as ruthless as the story tells me he is. So often characters are described as ruthless and manipulative and heartless, but their actions don't back it up. Yes, yes, I do not advocate kidnapping and forced marriage in real life, and I tolerate it from this character in part because I'm fairly confident in some sort of redemption arc, but in the meantime it's an awfully fun read. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>...more
A solid historical, with characters who are distinctly grown-ups, without a whiff of Almacks (yes yes wrong time period - it's more of a comment on toA solid historical, with characters who are distinctly grown-ups, without a whiff of Almacks (yes yes wrong time period - it's more of a comment on tone than anything), and pleasingly diverse sex moving beyond virginal tab a/slot b. Hoyt handles the presence of a voluminous cast of characters who are either sequel bait or previous protagonists with aplomb (much better than Balogh's endless begats in the Bedwyn/Bedford/whoever serieses), and each book stands alone while definitely aggressively seeding the next books.
Perhaps oddly enough, it's the plot and set-up here that's more engaging than the romance. Sure, the romance is the driver behind everything, but the characters' histories and motivations are more interesting to me than their chemistry. A viscount falsely accused of murder and held in Bedlam for years, an actress and her son and their tangled history with nobility - good stuff! I will fully admit, though, that even when he was being particularly villainous, the Duke of Montgomery was more interesting as a character to me than either of the protagonists. Quelle surprise that he's ultimately got his own book, too.
Having read on in the series, I can say that this is a good jumping-on point. There were clearly references to earlier books, but they did not diminish my understanding/enjoyment of this book. There was also sufficient groundwork laid for the books to follow that I feel I benefitted from having read this first. ...more
**spoiler alert** Oh, this was a spite-read after about ten paragraphs. Loathesome, *loatheseome* hero who started by having sex with the heroine unde**spoiler alert** Oh, this was a spite-read after about ten paragraphs. Loathesome, *loatheseome* hero who started by having sex with the heroine under intensely dubious circumstances, drugged and kidnapped her, belittled her constantly, took advantage of her head trauma to trick her into marriage knowing full well she would not have consented otherwise because, y'know, he *destroyed her life's work*, went through a wide variety of restricting her movements and actions "for her own good," and there was only the barest whisper of a grovel to make up for this. True, the heroine was often literally too stupid/too "occupied with thinking smart things" to avoid poisoning her dinner guest, so I can see where the hero would want to shake a little sense into her, but that sympathy only goes so far.
This book actually *explicitly acknowledges* in the text that he has the legal right to force her to do all of the unpleasant things listed above, that love (or at least the heroine's desire to bone the hero a lot, which is what it seemed to be more than love) was not enough to protect her from the hero forcing his will on hers when they disagree. It's there! In the words! And yet that all gets brushed away because of one paragraph of the hero going, "I was wrong and bad." Which, of course, immediately turned into an exercise in self-flagellation where the heroine had to comfort *him* because of...how...hurt...he was? that he acted poorly? and now understood that he was in the wrong? But then he goes on to say he'll never change! Believe him when he tells you! Run away!
Okay, the espionage subplot was kinda engaging, but ugh. Seriously. This hero deserved zero good things. None. ...more
I enjoyed aspects of all these stories, some very much so, but very little of that enjoyment was based on the romance. Not that most of the romance-yI enjoyed aspects of all these stories, some very much so, but very little of that enjoyment was based on the romance. Not that most of the romance-y bits were BAD, but they weren't the point of most of these stories.
Rose Lerner: queer hero, Jewish heroine, complicated identities and relationships and how those all interact, and a soupcon of BDSM. Here. For. It. All. So much.
Jeannie Lin: the first Lin historical I've read, and it won't be the last. Reeeeally didn't care about the romance, but I was totally here for the sheltered heroine dressing up as her brother and getting involved in a murder mystery while out on the town.
Isabel Cooper: elf hero blah blah magic romance whatever. I'm here for the Depression-era scamming of the slimy preacher. Would read more about Sam and her schemes to provide for her family any day of the week.
Molly O'Keefe: I wish it leaned a tad less heavily on the novel it clearly followed, and again I'm less interested in the romance between the two leads than I am about the addiction/redemption narrative they want to share. Also I do love a good comeuppance of a particularly nasty villain.
Joanna Bourne: I'm here for the thief/underworld shenanigans and the consequent scheming, but mostly I'm here for a bit of Hawker origin story. Even as a supporting character, he pops more than the leads and is more intriguing. Makes me want to go back and read the rest of this series. ...more
Even though I enjoyed the characters and their romance, I must admit I was totally here for the intrigue plot more than the romance. Rose Lerner is unEven though I enjoyed the characters and their romance, I must admit I was totally here for the intrigue plot more than the romance. Rose Lerner is unusual enough as a romance author that she will have things go awry for her characters (i.e. the various Bad Things that are often plot drivers/sources of conflict in romance novels that almost always work out for the best in the end), that Bad Things will happen, that characters will have to deal with the consequences of the Bad Things, and they *still* get their happy ending. I find this delightful, but this also meant that I was never quite sure how the intrigue would play out, as the easy answers were not guaranteed.
I also greatly enjoyed that the heroine was never going to unfrost, was always going to be difficult, and she learned to be cool with that. Even *better*, though, was the moment when the hero, who was generally cool with the heroine being prickly but never understanding *why* and therefore upsetting her with his reactions to certain things (leading her to think he didn't actually like her being prickly, making her more uncomfortable with that, etc etc etc), finally realizing that his reaction and expectations of her (and other Spoilery Character(s)) were based on his perspective as a financially comfortable (white) (cis) het dude in a society that values his categories above all other categories, even if he had his own personal difficulties and insecurities. It's maybe a little sad that a hero recognizing that he was maybe not in the best position to judge the heroine/another person's reactions to certain situations, that he should trust their own, y'know, lived experiences was so unusual as to be delightful, but it was. Delightful, that is.
Also points for a former prostitute heroine who a) definitely had sex b) definitely learned how to enjoy sex on her own terms even as she c) definitely viewed it as a business transaction, d) definitely experienced social repercussions for that transactional sex and e) definitely exerted control over her own sex life both when she was financially dependent on it and afterwards.
Basically I loved the structure and trappings of this book, even as I didn't particularly give two hoots about the characters themselves, when it's usually the other way around. ...more