Cover comment: I love the covers in this series, but recall that I am pretty time period insensitive. Is there such a thing as too much mauve? If there is, I’ve never heard of it.
Setting: Late 1820s London, with a brief prologue in Barbados.
Main characters: Camille Marchand, age 27, raised in precarious circumstances in France, the bastard daughter of a disgraced English noblewoman and an unctuous French rogue, and Kieran Neville, Baron Rothewell, a dissolute, taciturn loner, with a lifetime platinum membership at the Satyr’s Club.
Plot: Straightforward, but fairly dark, romance plot, with intrigues involving the heroine’s father and the nature of the hero’s ailments.
Distinctive features: Heroine is French speaking, hero deals with poor health, and, most shockingly, baby lust strikes them both!
My take in brief: I mostly enjoyed this one, but I won’t be keeping it. I don’t think the relatively simple story required 436 pages, the hero is unlikeable, and there are some sexist elements. The characters are refreshingly honest with each other, and both the hero and heroine have tragic and interesting histories that slowly unravel amidst a bevy of well drawn secondary characters.
Read an excerpt here.
Word on the Web:
Jayne, Dear Author, Grade: B
(Smart Bitches does not seem to review Carlyle (? unless I missed it), maybe explained by Candy’s view of Carlyle as one of the “Authors Other People Love that Makes Me Go AAAAARGH! What the Hell!!” You’ll see I share at least some of that sentiment in my review below)
Andi, AAR, Grade: A-
Devon, TGTBTU, Grade: B
Cheryl, Rakehell.com, positive
Where’s My Hero, negatory, with significant spoilerage
Amazon, 3.5 stars after 13 reviews
If you’ve read one of the earlier books in this trilogy, you know that our hero is no “wallpaper rake”. He really does drink, smoke, gamble, and whore around all night (he sleeps all day) with a group of people who make the demimonde look positively monde. He is taciturn, sullen, humorless, and alone. He is also quite ill — I mean coughing up bloody bile and nearly passing out all the time ill — and possibly dying.
I know what you’re thinking: why hasn’t some belle of the ton snapped up this yummy treat? Because Kieran knows he’s no catch: he’s his own worst critic. He feels unworthy of any meaningful relationships (not just romantic but all types), thanks to an unloved, abused childhood and grave moral error (I was actually shocked at how low an act he committed) in his late teens that put him on his present self-destructive path.
Carlyle has to walk two (interrelated) fine lines here: first, make him really rakish without being unredeemable, and, second, make him self-aware without making him self-pitying. I think she comes perilously close to the latter in both cases.
Kieran meets our heroine while gambling. In point of fact, she’s the pot, thanks to a vile father who means to pawn her off to the highest bidder for a share of a monetary settlement from her late grandfather. Kieran is instantly attracted to Camille, but he tells himself he’s only participating to prevent someone even worse from winning, although his view of himself is so negative, it’s hard to guess whom that could be.
For her part, Camille has come to England from France expressly to get married, which will allow her access to her grandfather’s settlement, and hopefully provide her with a child, mothering being her life’s goal. She’s under the gun, not just biologically, but legally, and has only a short time to make all of this happen, which explains why she accepts Kieran when he wins the wager.
This gambling scene, compelling as it was (having her stomp in to a room full of drunken men to present herself as a potential bride, and swear at everyone, her father included, while pouring herself a stiff drink and downing it, is a hell of a way to meet your typical historical romance heroine), made me very uncomfortable as a reader. (Some of it appears in the excerpt above, so you can judge for yourself.) Camille was treated as a thing not only by her father but by the other men present, including our hero.
I might have been able to let it go — especially since Kieran himself admits later that he was rationalizing his participation — except for certain comments about women that were made throughout the book which reinforced my impression that I was reading a 1980s bodice ripper. For example, Kieran says things like “I’d rather a nagging bitch for a wife than a frigid one” and “I find brevity an admirable quality in a wife” — and means them. When he sneers at her 2/3 of the way into the book, I had to double check that I wasn’t actually reading an old Rosemary Rogers.
Camille’s main attribute in Kieran’s eyes, for well into the book, is her sexual attractiveness (another problem for me), and yet he takes little responsibility for his own desire for her, calling it a weakness, and calling her a witch. This is another rocky path authors have to tread: to portray the way we can be overcome with passion (hence the name ‘passion': it is as if it happens to you, you are passive with respect to the feeling) and yet not to absolve us for our actions in response to it. Blaming the heroine for the hero’s lust was a common strategy in the old bodice rippers, and I fear this book came close to that at times.
And what is Kieran’s attraction for Camille? I don’t know. He’s not witty, funny, handsome, talented, hard working, romantic, eloquent, or kind. He is a stud in bed, which is kind of odd considering that his terrible health, tendency not to eat for days on end, and favorite pastime — getting plastered — do not typically lend themselves to sexual stamina.
This review is pretty critical so far, isn’t it? But I enjoyed reading the book overall, probably because Camille, while not as fleshed out as she might have been, was a strong person who knew what she wanted (a baby, and escape from her father), and was thus less of a victim than it appears. I liked it that Carlyle didn’t give us a poser rake, and I liked it that while Camille was a virgin, she was very active and more than willing in their sexual relationship. Their mutual sexual attraction, pragmatism, honesty, and similar tortured pasts serve as the bedrock of their relationship.
I’m tired of plots that require a pretty unremarkable event in the h/h’s distant past to cloud their judgment for all time, but both our hero and heroine have pasts that cast believably long shadows. Both characters were very honest with themselves and each other — refreshingly so. Have you ever been reading a romance and thought “why doesn’t s/he just say what s/he’s thinking!” (Wait. What am I saying. You read romance. Of course you have.). Well, you’ll never have that problem here. These two are so honest with each other I found myself cringing at times.
And the secondary characters (a return of several from books one and two in the trilogy, as well as some new ones) are well done, as are the secondary plots. As to the latter, could I see their “surprise” resolutions coming from, if not a whole book away, at least half a book away? Sure, but they were still interesting and believable.
I had read the first book in this trilogy (my only Carlyle) and liked it, but that’s not why I bought this one. I was in Borders and couldn’t bear to leave without grabbing a book. Oh, hell. That’s a lie. I had a book in my hand already when I saw this cover and submitted to its mauvy perfection. And although I needed to spend a few hours at Our Bodies, Our Blog afterwards, I’m not sorry, neither.