January 21, 2015
Yes, fellow romance readers, I believe Ms. Neville as finally hit paydirt.
This was a gem of a story filled with dark secrets, angst, guilt, revenge, lies, mistrust, and an occasional comic relief moment. Thank goodness we were given some laughs hither and yon, 'cause this story would have required some Valium without them. Was I ecstatic with everything in this book? Puleese, of course there were a few features I had problems with, but those were minor bumps in the road and we will talk about those later. First, let's talk about what I loved.
Let's begin with Julian Fortescue. We got us a hunk here, people! He has one of my favorite attributes - no, not that, although he does seem to have a pretty active Mr. Toad - he's has lonnngg black hair and startling sky blue eyesss. Startling blue eyes - what does that mean? Does that mean the blue is startling or are the eyes big and round? Somehow, I don't think our hero has Orphan Annie eyes. He also admits to being hairy - not sure how much though, and he is the proud owner of a roiling sac (sounds painful.) Beyond the physical, he is also a very complex guy. His mother has just dumped his three half-sisters on his doorstep and high-tailed it off with her new young husband. He has tried to maintain a distance from his sisters. One of the best things in the book is Julian and his sisters' growing relationship. The sisters each have their own separate personality. When they are first introduced into Julian's household they are resentful for being dumped on his doorstep, just as he is resentful for their being dumped. I enjoyed watching Julian and his sisters - Maria, Fenella, and Laura - test the waters of bonding. Fenella, my favorite, was a commanding secondary character and I imagine Ms. Neville had quite a time keeping her from taking over the book.
Then we have Julian's relationship with our heroine, Jane Grey, aka Jeanne de Falleron. There was a lot going on here. Jane/Jeanne's family fell victims to the Reign of Terror in France - her father, mother and two sisters. Jane/Jeanne's purpose in being in England is to look for the betrayer of her family and all she knows is that he is a Fortescue. Her alias of Jane Grey allows her to be a governess, which comes in handy because Julian Fortescue needs one. How convenient - yes, there are a lot of coincidences in this story. So, now she can try to find the Fortescue who sent her family to the guillotine. Of course, along the way she becomes entangled with her feelings for Julian's sisters, to say nothing of her reaction to Julian.
Ahhhh, Julian. Julian is a rake, he's a sensualist, he loves women and sometimes with Jane/Jeanne he gets really close to crossing the lines of boss/subordinate sex. In fact, when he interviews Jane/Jeanne for the job he hires her to be his mistress, while she thinks he's hiring her to be a governess. Well, it doesn't take long for Jane/Jeanne to catch onto Julian intentions - maybe it's that he puts her in the bedroom next to his. Jane/Jeanne is no shrinking violet, she tells Julian where he can get off and the relationship moves on from there. They become comrades of sorts, friends, and even though he still wants her, he pulls back on the intimidation. Then he finds out about her past life, some of the things she had to do to survive, and feels like a heel. Their whole unfolding relationship was incredible to read, because there is a secret we know that they don't. As we watch these two fall in love, we know that sometime, somehow the eggs, pie, stuff is going to hit the fan - and it does. In one glorious "oh nooooo" scene. Ah, the tension.
If I had a quibble with this story it was in Jane/Jeanne's belief that she was a whore because of the way she chose to survive. For me Jane/Jeanne was such a strong personality that I found the pity-poor-me routine out of character. When she accepted her horrible cousin's browbeating about a Falleron would die rather than submit, I wanted her to slug him - instead she was the one who was hurt. I thought the choice she made at the age of 15 was the right one. Her life choices were what made her a very compelling character, and there was a bit of that lost in her boo-hoo moment.
Except for a few minor hiccups, I loved this book. I loved watching the poignant scenes between Jane/Jeanne and Julian's sisters. The loss of her own sisters and her growing love for his three siblings was almost tear-worthy. Julian and Jane/Jeanne were an incredibly strong couple who fall in love. They are good for each other, they give each other courage to continue and they both learn to forgive. This is a must read.
Time/Place: Regency England