Villain or Hero?
Anne Stuart excels in penning male characters that sound like villains but turn out to be heroes, and this book is a good example of that. Ruthless is a great title for a book that has a dark, edgy, brooding, cruel man for its hero.
So, be warned - Francis Rohan is not lovable. He is no gruff teddy bear waiting for the love of a good woman. He is cruel, cruel, cruel and unlike other Romanceland rakes, he doesn't give up having sex with other women after one encounter with the heroine, Elinor. He becomes obsessed with Elinor, a spinster with a big nose, and he doesn't know why. And let me say something about heroine martyrs - Elinor comes really close to being one. She has good reason to be one... her life has been horrible. She lives in the slums of Paris with her pox-ridden crazy mother and her absolutely gorgeous younger sister. She has spent her entire young life sacrificing herself for her sister, but do we hate her? Do we whine about not liking martyr heroines? No, Elinor is a wonderfully written character with a strong sense of self and a humorous way of looking at things. I loved Elinor.
I was less fond of Francis, the hero. Oh sure, we are told he had a horrible young life, but we are never given enough details to really understand why he is such a cruel guy. And make no mistake about it, if it hadn't been for the blurb on the cover letting me know who the hero of this book was, I would have had my doubts. But, then that is what Anne Stuart does with her guys. I think that is why she has some over-the-top villains in her books - so we can tell the villain-villain from the hero-villain. This book is filled with some amazing descriptions of that time period and even the hero wears diamond studded heals, which I found rather amusing because he was trying to walk with a mince, but could only manage to do manly strides.
Do not despair and think that this is a totally dark tale, there are touches of humor scattered throughout the book, especially when the lead characters were sparring with each other. Although, I will have to say I found Francis' continual references to Elinor as "child" to be annoying, but oh well.
This is a very complex, wonderfully typical Anne Stuart story. I am looking forward to the next book in the series, which is coming in September and is about Elinor and Francis' son. The third book will be about their grandchild, so it will be interesting to see how well the family ages.
Time/Place: 1768 France
Sensuality Rating: Warm