Pub Date: December 2013
Length: 382 pages
FTC: Received at RT14
Miracle of miracles, I had a book in the easily accessible part of my TBR that fit the theme. This book is a RITA finalist for this year, which means it hasn't been languishing in the pile very long at all...which is probably why it's accessible. Ah, well.
Looking at the list of finalists for this year, I was surprised by how many I have read. My reading time has been severely limited this last year, but I've managed to read 9 finalists. That's more than any other year. Woohoo!
I've read Sarah MacLean before, but I admit I've gotten out of the habit of reading historical romances lately. My tastes have been running to Urban Fantasy, romantic suspense, and small town contemporaries, but I decided to give this one a shot anyway.
There's no question that Sarah MacLean's prose is lovely. It's very atmospheric and distinctive, which is a rarity for authors of this particular publisher. And despite its elegance, conveys the gritty particulars of this novel quite well.
From Chapter 1:
"There is beauty in the moment when flesh meets bone.The set up for the novel is unusual: a very young girl engaged to a duke decides to escape her fate by faking a ruination and disappearing. Her method is to drug a young stranger and spill some pigs blood on the sheets. The only problem is that she spills way too much, and the young man she's drugged wakes up covered in blood with no memory of what happened. Oh, and he happens to be her almost-stepson. He is, of course, discovered doused in blood and presumed to have murdered her. He's cast off from his family, labelled as the "Killer Duke," and left to wonder whether he really was a murderer for twelve long years...until his "victim" shows up in his gambling hell.
It is born of the violent crunch of knuckles against jaw, and the deep thud of fist against abdomen, and the hollow grunt that echoes from the chest of a man in the split second before his defeat.
Those who revel in such beauty, fight.
Some fight for pleasure. For the moment when an opponent collapses to the floor in a cloud of sawdust, without strength or breath or honor.
Some fight for glory. For the moment when a champion looms over his beaten and broken adversary, slick with sweat and dust and blood.
And some fight for power. Underscored by the strain of sinew and the ache of soon-to-be bruises that whisper as victory comes with the promise of spoils.
But the Duke of Lamont, known throughout London's darkest corners as Temple, fought for peace."
I'm a big believer in the importance of setting, so I was a little perplexed by MacLean's decisions in that regard. The boxing arena and gambling settings are incredibly detailed and vivid. But the other locations are barely there. And there's a similar inconsistency with characterization. Some secondary characters are well done, others are merely placeholders.
Much of what happens strains credulity a bit, but I let it go. My biggest problem with the book was the sagging middle. It felt like we should be done with the book by page 250, but it continues on for another 100 pages.
There's a whole lot of SorryNotSorry in this book. It isn't until the very end that Mara realizes just how horribly she screwed Temple over by disappearing and not coming forward once the coast was clear. Which, hey, that's fine and fits with many a romance novel ending. Those last minute aha moments are standard conclusion fare. But what really irritated me was that she goes the martyr route. Blah.
I loved the overall idea, the palpably different tone in the gambling hell/boxing matches, and the romance (most of the time), but there were some serious issues throughout. My favorite part of the book, though is the pig. Lavender, the piglet, really steals the show in this book despite doing nothing more than sleeping throughout a great deal of it.
My Grade: B-
A rogue ruined . . .
He is the Killer Duke, accused of murdering Mara Lowe on the eve of her wedding. With no memory of that fateful night, Temple has reigned over the darkest of London’s corners for twelve years, wealthy and powerful, but beyond redemption. Until one night, Mara resurfaces, offering the one thing he’s dreamed of . . . absolution.
A lady returned . . .
Mara planned never to return to the world from which she’d run, but when her brother falls deep into debt at Temple’s exclusive casino, she has no choice but to offer Temple a trade that ends in her returning to society and proving to the world what only she knows...that he is no killer.
A scandal revealed . . .
It’s a fine trade, until Temple realizes that the lady—and her past—are more than they seem. It will take every bit of his strength to resist the pull of this mysterious, maddening woman who seems willing to risk everything for honor . . . and to keep from putting himself on the line for love.