Cover Comment: Luscious, and the models in the stepback are perfect
Series?: Yes. This is the second of the Hathaway series, the first of which was Cam’s story, Mine til Midnight, and the next installment is (I think) Poppy’s story, followed by Leo’s.
Heroine and Hero: She’s Win Hathaway, serene virginal young woman, newly recovered from a dread illness, hopelessly in love with Kev Merripen, orphaned Rom gypsy who came to live with the Hathaways after a horrendous and violent childhood, leaving him more beast than man, but man enough to be hopelessly in love right back with Win.
Distinctive feature: Requited love from page 1. Name another romance that has that! Oh, and the heroine is described as a “fastidious little cannibal” during one of the love scenes.
Word on the Web:
Jane, Dear Author: B-
Romance Rookie, Jill D., A
Cheryl, AAR, A-
Ana, Book Smugglers, 9 out of 10 (check out the comments thread for a long comment by Ms. Kleypas herself about Merripen!)
Ramblings on Romance, joint review and chat, Kristie(J), 5+, and Katiebabs, 4 out of 5
CindyS, Nocturnal Wanderings, B
TGTBTU, Gwen, A
Holly, Book Binge, 4.75 out of 5
Nath and Lori, joint review at Breezing Through, Nath: “mediocre to good”, and Lori: about the same
Lawson, TGTBTU, A
Drusilla, The Romance Bureau, C (and check out this site for the most unique romance review set up I have yet seen!)
Kati, Romancenovel.tv, 4.75 stars
Romance Novels, “absolutely adored” it
Romance Vagabonds, A
Leslie’s Psyche, A-
Stacy, Stacy’s Place on Earth, 4 3/4 out of 5
Amazon.com, 4 stars after 24 reviews
Harriet Klausner Falsoid (you know, like a factoid, only false): Too many to list, which is actually kind of impressive for a three paragraph “review”, raising the question of whether there is a kind of excellence in wrongness. Animegirl’s comment puts it best: “Get your facts straight before embarrassing yourself with sucky, uninformed reviews.”
My Take in Brief: Very good — great if you like your heroes angsty and your dramatic tension high — but not my fave by this author.
The Racy Romance Review:
Like most romance readers, especially lovers of historical romance, I adore Lisa Kleypas. This is the seventh book of hers I have read, and I have enjoyed them all. I can’t say this ranks up there with her best — for me, Devil in Winter, Dreaming of You, or It Happened One Autumn — but the emotional intensity of the lead relationship, combined with a winning heroine and Kleypas’s trademark strengths in juggling ensembles and subplots, made it a very good experience for me overall.
SMAS opens with an intense scene between Win and Kev: she is leaving for France to complete her recovery from scarlet fever, and she wants Kev to acknowledge his feelings for her. I thought it was terrific that the reader is introduced to these two this way, in the middle of things. Their emotions are so strong — love, lust, fear, anger — that they seem uncontainable in the small room in which this conversation takes place. Those who’ve read Mine til Midnight, in which Kleyaps provided glimpses of their relationship, will have been primed for this type of scene, but I found it believable and compelling even though I skipped Cam and Amelia’s story.
Win is terrific. In an earlier post, I noted that heroines can be strong in a lot of different ways, and Win is an example of that. She is consistently the more honest, mature, risk taking and even dominant in their relationship, despite all of Kev’s bluster, while remaining traditionally feminine in demeanor and appearance. Her illness has sharpened her awareness of the precariousness of life, and has given her hopes for marriage and family a kind of focused intensity. It’s what she wants, and if Kev cannot get over his unexplained reluctance to be with her, she will find someone else.
There is a someone else — Win brings him back from her two year convalescence in France — and while his presence provides a monkey wrench to get Kev out of his very stuck place, and also provides a suspense subplot, this character is not well drawn, and never, to my mind, posed a credible enough threat to be interesting. Of course, we do have the rest of the Hathaways, and even appearances of a Wallflower couple, and those scenes, which some readers may feel are overused, give the book a levity and easy warmth that serve as a welcome contrast to the intense quality of the Kev/Win scenes.
The scene stealing star of this book is actually Leo, Win’s older brother, the classic self-deprecating rake with a heart of gold, a wonderful sense of humor, and a core of darkness underlying all the mirth. Leo butts heads early on with the stern new governess, hired to help younger siblings Poppy and Beatrice — near social outcasts thanks to their unconventional family — make something out of their London seasons. Here’s a typical Leo (and Kev) scene:
“I’ve been wondering … Is [the governess] a misandrist, or does she hate everyone in general?”
“What is a misandrist?
“She doesn’t hate men. She’s always been pleasant to me and Rohan.
Leo looked genuinely puzzled. “Then … she merely hates me?”
“It would seem so.”
“But she has no reason!”
“What about your being arrogant and dismissive?”
“That’s part of my aristocratic charm,” Leo protested.
“It would appear your aristocratic charm is lost to Miss Marks.” Kev arched a brow as he saw Leo scowl. “Why should it matter? You have no personal interest in her, do you?”
“Of course not,” Leo said indignantly. “I’d sooner climb into bed with Bea’s pet hedgehog. Imagine those pointy little elbows and knees. All those sharp angles. A man could do fatal harm to himself, tangling with Marks…” He stirred the plaster with new vigor, evidently preoccupied with the myriad dangers in bedding the governess.
A bit too preoccupied, Kev thought.
Like I am sure every other reader, I cannot wait for Leo’s story.
Kev’s Rom ethnicity is probably the focal issue of the book: not just his mysterious origins, and his troubled relationship with Cam, fellow Romany gypsy and new member to the household, but also his take on gender and romantic relationships. To her credit, Kleypas doesn’t restrict her exploration of Kev’s ethnicity to mentioning his dark skin and eyes every so often. Readers come to understand how central Kev’s ethnic identity is to him, even as he integrates into white English upper class culture and wrestles with the complicating fact that his own people abused him and left him for dead as a child. Readers are also given a lot of information about the Romany people, and are exposed to the range of views of gypsies that whites — gadjos — would likely have had: members of the ton who shun the Hathaways because of it, and the servants who feel superior, as revealed in a scene in which a servant says a gypsy boy is speaking “gibberish” when Kev knows he is, in fact, speaking “perfectly articulate Romany”. Further, the villain’s evilness is signaled by his racially motivated hatred of the hero.
However, and here is my quibble with the book: Kev is, for most of the book, a very one note character. He wants Win — it is clear he is in desperate love and lust with her, and Kleypas treats us to terrific flashbacks in which this love develops — but feels he is unworthy, because he has nothing to offer her in terms of social standing, wealth, or even manners, and, more deeply, because, like many other victims of child abuse, he secretly feels he doesn’t deserve happiness.
But Kleypas’s descriptions of him sound this same note over and over and over: he’s savage, he’s a beast, he’s an animal, he’s primitive, he’s uncivilized. He’s “impenetrably mysterious”, “demonic”, a “vile tempered troll”, and “would never be more than half-tame”, and on and on until very late in the book. If you haven’t read it, it’s hard to convey how saturated this book is with images of the hero as nonhuman. I have to admit it, that even with the explanatory background of child abuse, this bothered me on both literary and moral levels.
Second, Kev’s emergence from the pit of self-loathing that Kleypas has dug so well seemed pretty abrupt, following directly upon his deflowering of Win. After the scene in which they are first together, a touching and beautiful interlude, references to Kev’s animal nature, as well as his antisocial behavior, disappear almost completely from the book. I guess this came a little too close to the “magic hoo ha” for me.
Still, this was an enjoyable read, and will certainly not be the last in this series for me.