Shanyn Hosier's Reviews > Swept Away by a Kiss

Swept Away by a Kiss by Katharine Ashe
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Feb 17, 2012

liked it
bookshelves: historical-romance

Deciding on a rating for this book was hard. So many things about it were superb, but others were sufficiently aggravating enough that I developed a kind of love-hate relationship with this story.

Ashe composes extremely well written prose with intelligent, PBS-worthy dialogue - definitely a strength of hers. She writes period detail that feels highly authentic, inspiring far more trust in me than many other historical romance authors. Her characterizations were gripping and thorough. The espionage subplot was extremely entertaining and quite possibly the best part of the book.

Now, for the not-so-great parts.

By the cover alone, I feared this story would be a bust. Note that the open back of the heroine's dress exposes a ZIPPER closure - ugh. And as one reads, it quickly becomes clear that the hero has sun-golden hair, not dark. But I understand an author doesn't always have much input in her cover art... so it's possibly more a complaint better directed to the publisher, not the author.

A confusing prologue dated 1799 and equally baffling but brief letter from the heroine to her brother, dated 11 years later, occupy the first 4 pages - a dizzying amount of time travel. After having read this book twice, I still can't figure out the purpose of either. They feel tacked on, as if an editor suggested the author somehow attempt to reassure readers of both characters' inner value, despite the outward appearances to come. Neither was effective.

Repeatedly throughout the book, the author harps on a prophesy given to Stephen long ago about his destiny, apparently involving a woman named Valerie. There are also frequent interstitials of Valerie dreaming scary, prophetic things. I kept expecting the author to explain this dalliance with the metaphysical, but it never happened. I still don't understand what purpose these served aside from attempts to remind the reader that, despite all appearances to the contrary, Stephen and Valerie are destined to be together. Kind of lame.

Approximately the first third of the book involves a shipboard voyage. The suspense of the kidnapping and chemistry between Valerie and the priest Etienne/Stephen is well written here, but the madness of Captain Bebain is contrived bordering on silly. Surely there was a better way to get these two together.

Unfortunately, once the hero and heroine reunite in England after their shipboard trauma, the romantic plot sinks like a stone. It devolves into the kind of narrative I loathe: bad boy hero treats heroine like crap in order to save her from himself, but she laps it up because she alone can see how wonderful he really is. Blech.

I liked the character of Valerie, especially her inner strength and intelligence. I sympathized with her frustration with being stifled by society and her yearning for adventure. But I wanted to throttle her for continuing to pursue Stephen no matter how wretchedly he treated her. Yes, Valerie correctly imagined Stephen was far nobler than he appeared, but the basic truth boiled down to this: Valerie lusted after him, and this is what kept her going back for more every time he cast her a smoldering look. Only her determination to keep pushing herself on him despite his horrible treatment of her led to her discoveries of his worth.

Stephen was an unmitigated jerk. Yes, he was a spy and serving a higher calling, but none of this excuses the cruelty with which he treated Valerie. She'd given him loads of proof she could be trusted with his secrets as well as demonstrated her competency, intelligence, and powers of observation - traits any real spy would have valued in a potential accomplice, if not lover. Beastly Stephen repeatedly tells the reader how hard it is for him to resist her as well as how it hurts him to cast her aside so often, but if he really felt so tenderly for her, surely he could have found a kinder way to do so. Instead, he behaved like a brute. While I'm happy for Valerie's happy ending, I remain unconvinced Stephen deserves any of it.

I'm glad I won this book as well as its sequel in a raffle. Had I only gotten this one, I never would have pursued more of the author's work. But since it was free and on hand, I read "Captured by a Rogue Lord" then immediately bought "In the Arms of a Marquess." Thankfully, I can report the next two books in the series live up to the author's beautiful and competent prose.
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