Author: Liz Carlyle
Publisher: Harper Collins
Imprint: Avon Books
Reviewing: Advanced Uncorrected Proof provided by publisher and TLC Book Tours
Liz Carlyle is one of those ready, steady authors that I can always count on for solid read. In recent years, I've neglected a few of these authors, seduced away by vampires and shifters and shiny new faces in the Regency scene. (I should say that technically, this is not a Regency as it takes place in the early Victorian period. But in most ways, it fits into a Regency-style historical).
So I was more than willing to pick up her latest and see how she's holding up against all the other temptations on the scene, and it's safe to say, "very well indeed."
Beneath the elegant façade of Victorian high society, the mysterious men of the St. James Society play only by rules of danger and desire.The Characters
Rance Welham, the Earl of Lazonby, has survived scandal and disgrace, even evading the Queen’s justice at the end of a hangman’s rope. Now he’s about to gamble everything on something far more dangerous—desire.
An exotic and elegant beauty, Lady Anisha Stafford fled her native India to seek refuge within London’s secretive St. James Society. But accepting protection from someone called a cold-hearted killer is a double-edged sword . . . especially when he’s the most intriguing man Anisha has ever laid eyes upon.
In a world where treachery abounds, no one can be trusted—and no true passion can be denied. Together, these two tempestuous souls will risk their lives for a love that could redeem them . . . or destroy everything they hold dear.
Now, I've seen some tortured Earls in my time, but Lazonby has really been through it. Years in Newgate, years in the French Foreign Legion, and two dates with the hangman-- this is not your garden variety "Boo hoo, daddy issues," or "boo hoo, some girl was mean to me once" sort of baggage. On top of his own trials, the whole affair ruined the health of both his parents - so he has this functional-family background and a layer of guilt because of that, too. I really liked the way Carlyle made him so irresistibly, superficially charming, with the contrast of his underlying broken and jagged edges.
Anisha is also pretty atypical. Her father is Scots, her mother Indian, and she was raised largely by her mother's family. When her husband passes away, she packs up her sons and teenage brother in order to be under the wing of her eldest brother (who is curiously absent in this book, but it's a reasonable motivation for the move). She understands the value to her sons of co-existing in British society, but she is also independent-minded and conforms only to the point that it makes sense to her:
Anisha turned, her spine elegantly aligned, her breasts still beautifully high amidst the untidy tendrils of tumbled-down hair. "I do not own a corset," she said simply.I liked Anisha a lot, most of the time. She's forthright, pragmatic, sensual, and has priorities I can understand. She's got a strong touch of the exotic to her character which overall I liked, but there were times when I felt like the Indian cultural pieces were laid on a bit heavily. It was consistent with her character and did serve to underline her torn-between-two-cultures conflicts; I just felt that it was a tad awkward or lecture-feeling at times.
She smiled faintly. "I find them unhealthful," she added. "They restrict one's vital life forces - one's *prana* - and that hampers *citta*--"
"Ah," he said. "Which is...?"
Anisha paused to think. "Well, awareness of life," she said. "Consciousness."
Falling in Love
One of my favorite things about reading romance are the moments when the characters connect. When they feel that thing that makes it love, makes it a romance. When I'm flagging a book for my favorite bits, the front third is usually crowded with these little marks, little moments, while the rest of the book is far more bare. Don't get me wrong, I want to live through the conflicts and the resolutions, too, but oh, those little moments... they're why I read romance. Here's my favorite from this one:
In Africa he had lived a life sunk so deep in licentiousness that he was ashamed to remember much of it; lain so long and so often in a drug-hazed stupor with God only knew who, he had become more animal than man. But in that moment of perfect innocence beneath the arbor, he felt Anisha's need wash through him like a pure, clean thing. He believed for a moment that he was that different man; forgot for a few fleeting moments the accusations that had ruined him.Yeah. I love that.
There's a mystery here, surrounding Lazonby's past and how the son of an Earl came to be tossed into Newgate. I really liked the way the clues unfolded and the way Anisha's interactions with the various informants entwined with the emotional development between her and Lazonby. There were times when the romance sagged or stagnated a little bit, but the mystery plot kept me turning pages until the hero and heroine connected again. I think the start-and-stop aspect of their relationship was intentional and felt natural, like the way a real-life relationship might go, but the "stop" bits can drag a little. Thanks to a tight, exciting plot, this didn't turn into a major problem.
There's a bit of a paranormal thread running through this book, and whole chunk to do with a secret society, that didn't honestly seem to add very much to this particular story. I got the sense that it was more important for other related stories. I wouldn't go so far as to say it was intrusive or distracting, but it felt a little bit unnecessary. There was also a fairly large cast of secondary characters that I mostly enjoyed but there did come a point where I felt a little bit like "OK, that's enough other people! who are those twins and why are they here and do I really care about the fiancee's elderly Italian aunt?"
Other than a few nitpicks, this is a solid, lovely historical romance, with unusual characters, a tight twisty plot, and an emotional connection that resonates.
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