The course of true love never did run smooth. Very true, especially when it is made even more complicated when you find yourself falling in love with...moreThe course of true love never did run smooth. Very true, especially when it is made even more complicated when you find yourself falling in love with The Enemy. 'The Runaway Countess' is a stunning debut novel from Ms LaValle; it is thrilling and fraught with tension and intrigue, it is sensual and seductive, and it is sure to captivate your heart. I know that from the first chapter, I was very impressed with the crisp clarity of writing, of how the lush narrative allowed me to immerse myself in Trent and Mazie's world without diffidence.
We are immediately aware that the stakes are high; we see and feel the desperation that should overpower a weaker person, and yet loyalty, strength of character and bravery prevail, and we see into the heart of Mazie Chetwyn who has been captured, indeed guilty of the 'mercy' crimes she has committed. She knows firsthand about the oppression and corruption going on around her and has teamed up with the local highwayman, the Midnight Rider, to set things right. Of course, there are two sides to the story, and so we meet Trent Carthwick, twelfth Earl of Radford, the Lord Lieutenant of Nottinghamshire, who is principled and respectable ... a discerning and intelligent man who believes wholeheartedly in the law. The scandal surrounding the Midnight Rider and his accomplice is threatening everything he is; all he has known and worked hard for, and so he must remain in Nottinghamshire to sort it all out, capture the Midnight Rider, and reestablish the honor of his family name. He doesn't remain oblivious to the injustice and damage inflicted upon the locals for long, thanks to Mazie challenging him at every turn. Eventually, the fissures in his otherwise just and stable world emerge, and he is forced to reevaluate his position and actions regarding whom to trust, without losing faith in the system of the law.
I found myself falling for Mazie and Trent, two extraordinary people struggling to do right in this world, in their own way. Infallible they are not, but they adapt and they learn, they choose and they act, never just sitting idly by. I do so appreciate the complex situation they find themselves in, and I can't take for granted the thought process and the dueling emotions regarding the heavy decisions they both must make. Every now and then I found myself needing to pause for a bit to digest their current status or state of mind. What must it be like for Trent, finding himself inevitably drawn to, in love with, a guilty criminal, who is dead set on protecting the person he must apprehend? What then, when he finally gets to know her heart and see beyond her actions, and yet know that 'he could not have it all. He was destined to lose something in the end. ' Duty, honor, and responsibility. Freedom, happiness, and love. What must it be like for Mazie, already faced with threats to her freedom and life, but still loyal and unwavering in her protection of the Midnight Rider? What then, when she discovers for herself that though, yes, he is duty-bound and very much on the side of the law, that he has a very kind heart, that he is willing to change ... that he is also stuck in an impossible situation between the locals and the gentry, and that he is 'just a man. A man with a heart, with tears and worries of his own.' When the time comes that she is able to trust, would she also be able to give up freedom? Love? My heart breaks for them.
One of my favorite things about this book is the undeniable attraction between the two. Try as they might, and as perverse as it is to desire one's enemy, well, there it is, the attraction simmering, sizzling, burning up the pages. Oh my goodness, those scenes are so hot, sensual, and oh so delicious. Their kisses alone would have been the death of me already, but wait till you get to Chapter Sixteen. Whew. My favorite line in the entire book is about their third kiss, in fact.
It was a kiss born of thunderstorms and the wild loneliness of the night. It was hot, fierce, and needy.
I love, love Mazie's uncensored thoughts, actually laughed out loud at some of the moments when she is struggling not to feel affected, not to show that she is affected, and then finally admitting, and submitting, to her passion and desire. 'He could do whatever it was his eyes were saying they wanted to do.'
Oh, so refreshing to see a heroine voice her (treacheroussincere) desire for the hero.
He looked up at her from where he bent over the spigot. That devilish lock of hair fell across his forehead and her breath caught. Even after their argument, even after the brittle fear of the morning, she was still attracted to him. It was entirely unfair that he was so handsome. She wished he weren't so beautiful. No, she amended. She loved that he was beautiful. She wished he weren't her enemy. That he wasn't always so determined to ruin her life.
I love Trent's intensity, and by intense, I mean, wow. I'm surprised Mazie hasn't yet melted, what with the smoldering gazes, always under his scrutiny and observations and stares. I ... have no words, hehe. Trent could not disguise his attraction to her even if he tried. But more than this, I loved how Trent tried to cope with his new found feelings for her while trying to reconcile it with the reality of who Mazie was. I love the moments where we are shown Trent's kindness, his gentleness, to everyone from the locals, his sister, Mazie. Even when he knew Mazie was not being forthcoming, despite trying to reign in his feelings for Mazie, there is no doubt he is very attuned to her, even without complete comprehension.
It distressed him seeing her so upset. And his distress over her distress distressed him even more. Which made no sense being that she continued to lie to him, even knowing what he had at stake. She was a devil of a confusing woman.
There is so much to recommend in this gem of a book. One of them is Cat, Trent's unhappily married sister and Mazie's peer. I love Cat so much, and my heart goes out for her too. (Ms LaValle, we ARE going to learn more about Cat, aren't we? Yes or yes? :D) She's wonderful, I love her character so much. There are two particular conversations she had with Mazie that made me feel that gnawing ache in my heart. The first one happened when Mazie decided to hide from Trent. Two very impressive, undaunted, protective sisters, alone, together; in a large library; their conversation very telling. Cat's candor illuminating on some truths, confessed directly or otherwise. The second one happened towards the end.
“You will run.” “I don’t know.” She was honest. “Trent knows the truth, understands why the Midnight Rider did what he did. It is his decision what happens next. I am not going to stay and help your brother find my br—my friend. There is nothing left for me here.” “There is love.” Mazie shook her head. She took her stance and pulled back on her bowstring. “No matter what happens, we will hurt each other terribly/" "Does it work, running away?" Cat's voice was marked by concern and frustration. "Is that why Forster has been gone so many years?"
I really am curious to hear more about Cat. Here's to hoping we'll soon find out. :D
I thoroughly enjoyed my reading of this novel. It grips you right from the very start, and doesn't let you want to let go. It was well worth the journey to the end and see how the situations were resolved. By the time I reached the end, I had tears threatening to fall while a goofy grin was pasted on my face. I would definitely recommend 'The Runaway Countess' to everyone. :)
He hides his true colors while she hides her true self. That statement alone would have gotten me to read this book right away, but as it was, back in...moreHe hides his true colors while she hides her true self. That statement alone would have gotten me to read this book right away, but as it was, back in April or something, I kept hearing about this book with many readers either abhorring "that scene" and hating the book completely, or admiring the book because of it ... I didn't want to be spoiled so I went ahead and downloaded this and read straightaway. I was so very curious to see what everyone was talking about, and I was really interested to discover also what kind of reaction it would warrant from me. And oh, my. What an experience it was.
I'm not going to lie. This book is a difficult read for me. I don't like reading about betrayal and deception to begin with, because I can't abide by it in real life. Duplicity is the ultimate risk, and trust once broken is so, so hard to earn back. But then again .... people lie all the time. We tell others half truths, we tell them white lies, mostly it's sprung from our (misguided) love and our need to protect others. Truth hurts. But it hurts even more to know that the person we have trusted with our heart has outright lied to us.
Truth hurts, but it doesn't kill. Except maybe if you're Diccan, and you've uncovered a Plot To Kill Someone, and then suddenly the whole country's safety is at stake. As a spy masquerading as a diplomat, he takes his duty to serve his country to heart. He has been doing this for so long, pretending to be someone he's not, that he's perfected the art of Being Somebody Else. And he has been fine with living that kind of life, being known as The Perfection. Up until he got caught in a compromising situation with Grace. Now there's another person who exemplifies duty. As a soldier's daughter, she has learned to sacrifice her own desires. All her life, she has been exactly what others need her to be. She could not wait for the day when she is able to live freely and honestly, without reservation. Grace has dreamt of it for so long, and damn, she has definitely earned it. But she can't have it. Because that choice has been stripped away from her, and she finds herself obliged to Do The Right Thing once more. Diccan and Grace marry.
Truth doesn't kill, but it suffocates. Diccan does the honorable thing and marries Grace (although he bungles that up by not even asking properly in the first place). He knows that he was set up, and that he would be able to protect Grace by staying together. Maybe both of their names can be salvaged. When women get asked The Question, it usually signifies a happy start to their future, not a sad goodbye to dreams now dissolved. Grace entered this marriage with her eyes wide open and her heart already broken. Neither of them harbors the illusion that this marriage is a blessing.
But they do their best.
We see glimpses of who Diccan can be when not bogged down by all the secrets and lies. I think this is why I can never truly hate Diccan. Because as much as it pains me to see the repercussions of his actions are, especially towards Grace, we see how conflicted he is and how much it pains him to do the things that must be done. I think if Ms. Dreyer didn't do an exceptionally good job of showing us how this is greatly affecting Diccan as well, I wouldn't have been able to finish this book. Because truly, some of the things that Diccan does seem well and beyond redemption. To put his duty to his country over his love? Over and over again? How horrible must the choices be to choose from? And to know that each time he is hurting somebody else. Somebody who has become real to him -- a person he has come to care a great deal for. Those moments of inner conflict, when it shows he regrets his actions and that he is even disgusted with himself for putting her through so much, you get the feeling of just how unjust and cruel the fates have been to them. Because Diccan is not a detestable person. He is honorable. He is thoughtful. Protective and gentle. Despite everything he has done, he is still capable of love.
When you're just tolerating someone, you don't really get to see them for who they are, for what they have to offer, and for who you could become because they're present in your life. But once you start caring for them, you start admiring their strengths. You start being attracted to them, not just because of their looks, but because you've seen beyond. Without even knowing, you have come to accept the person just as they are. You begin to see them in a different light, respect blossoms, and love begins to grow.
Grace may not be called beautiful, she may be too tall, she may be a cripple, and she may not know the ways of the ton, but she is not just amazing ... she is real. She is smart. She recognizes truths for what they are. She is so giving, always sharing a piece of herself. Grace is a good person; kind, decent, and loving. Just don't mistake her for weak, because when she is put to the test, her strong character, solid sense of dignity and her heart worthy of love is something remarkable. I fell in love with her. No wonder Diccan fell in love with her.
But it wasn't easy. Like I said, this was tough for me to read. It was challenging for me to finish the first time because of how real it was for me. I don't know how many times I have picked this book up since I first read it. Sometimes I just flip to a page and start reading from there. More often than not, after doing that, I find myself going back from the beginning, completing the book. I've picked this book up when I was very upset at something. I picked it up when I was feeling much angst. I picked it up when I was feeling content. It didn't matter the mood and the time, I suppose, because always, it always feel like a rollercoaster and I'm guaranteed to feel something.
Grace's plight was so heartbreaking. I tried to explain it to a friend once, and usually when I do something like this I like to quote (I remember words.) a passage from the book, a part of the dialogue between the characters ... I couldn't come up with one. The book was littered with those poignant moments, when we have access to Grace's penetrating thoughts and we are allowed passages to those moments of her agonizing and heartrending resolve. It felt to me as if pieces of Grace's heart were scattered in those passages, and I felt as though I was the one who has lost her heart. I had to keep reading. I wanted to know that she didn't give up so much of herself that she becomes lost in the process. I wanted to know that she's learned to not just accept things as they come, but to fight for what she wants and what she needs. I had to know that Grace makes it, dignity in tact, heart pieced back together. I had to be strong for this character, because she had to be strong. As distressed and lost and heartbroken as I was, I still couldn't help but hold on to the hope that she will be wanted and needed and loved. Such was my tenacity in believing in their Happy Ever After.
Because Diccan and Grace, they're essentially two wounded, lovable, damaged, good people caught in the charade. Because as much as truth devastates their heart, it also ultimately frees their soul. Because everything they have been through, all the hurt, humiliation, and anger they were subjected to only strengthened character and fortified their resolve to live the life they deserve with the person they want, and need, and love.
All I can say is that the book did not disappoint. It's a rare book nowadays that can get a reader to experience a whole gamut of feelings and emotions. Surprise, happiness, angst, loneliness, rage, betrayal, shock, confusion, heartache, concern, hope, love .... and in the kind of intensity the story and the characters compels you to feel. There are times when I was just astonished at how much one person can give and overwhelmed at just how much they can take, when I was touched by simple gestures that show their real person, when I was just tempted to close the book and walk away because of the extent of anger and hurt I was feeling at that moment, and there were times when I just wanted to hug the book so close to my chest and never let it go.
Wow. I ... did not see that coming, but the tears, there were no stopping them. I had to pause and put the book down and gather myself first before re...moreWow. I ... did not see that coming, but the tears, there were no stopping them. I had to pause and put the book down and gather myself first before reading the last few pages left. It was that emotionally satisfying for me, to read that scene that made me cry. Oh, so good.(less)