Form: e-book, Kindle format
Genre: historical romance
Target audience: adults
Why I read it:
Oh, really mum, not my fault, not at all. Bad influence, nothing less, that’s the beginning and the end of it. First I’ve seen a very good review, written by Blodeuedd, and got curious…then I decided to start the series in the middle, exactly as Melissa (BaT). Oh well…
The titular soldier, Devlin St. Just, is an illegitimate son of a duke and a retired English colonel, lately returned from the Iberian Peninsula war .Well, illegitimate or not, every Austen heroine would drool over him and their mamas would be plotting a whole campaign worth at least two Bonapartes and one Nelson to have him as their son-in-law. He is handsome and well-conected and evidently single and you know these country matrons, ferocious and cunning like hell. He was granted a title and an estate in Yorkshire. Unfortunately the estate is neglected and with it come other duties as well – like taking care of another illegitimate child, sired by the previous owner – it is an unruly little girl called Bronwyn (Winnie) living in a cottage with her cousin, Emmeline (Emmie) Farnum.
Well, Emmie needs taking care of as well but her problems are a bit different- she is a 25 years old spinster who earns her living by baking bread and pastries for the local community. However the same people who order her tasty buns and cakes ostracize her for being, like Winnie, a child born on the wrong side of the blanket. Actually women in her family have a bit of reputation and Emmie is anxious that Winnie, when older, might be tarred with the same brush. When St. Just clearly won over by the child’s innocent charm, offers to take care of Winnie, it seems like an excellent idea. Even the most excellent ideas can backfire, though. Will Emmie be prepared for unexpected complications in her life?
What I liked:
Grace Burrowes is an award-winning romance writer. I am happy to say all of these awards have actually been well-deserved. Like in the case of books penned by another clever romance-writing lady, Courtney Milan, here we have an actual plot. It might be not exactly a maddeningly brilliant one but it can engage a reader pretty efficiently and I admit Ms. Burrowes develops it with more intelligence and wit than an ordinary romance book writer. Well done!
The whole narration is turning around Devlin, Emmie and Winnie, her underage charge. Devlin is handsome, strong, brave, caring and soft-hearted; a great friend, brother and lover; Emmie is a warm, hard-working country girl who knows how to take care of herself and hers; Winnie is a mischievous, precocious but troubled child who has yet to learn who to trust and likes wandering on her own. As the narrative develops you find out that that trio really complement each other. Burrowes also deftly handles their relationships with the secondary characters – the friendship between Devlin and Douglas, Lord Amery, between Devlin and Hadrian, the local vicar and Emmie’s admirer, between Emmie and Hadrian and the loving relationship between Devlin and his brother, Valentine. Building these bonds was a real strength of this book.
The main hero, Devlin, is a huge asset – in fact the biggest one – of this book. A former soldier, he suffers of severe PTSD and he struggles day in day out to stay more or less normal, sober and responsible. It is 19th
century so nobody even thinks of providing any treatment for veterans like him. It is a very poignant fight, especially that we get some glimpses of close-to-reality war atrocities as he reminisces about Napoleonic wars – Devlin’s version of events is not sugarcoated by patriotic dross or any other propaganda and I enjoyed it very much. He admits to many crimes which in times of peace would earn him the capital punishment and during war brought him orders for services and admiration of his general and underlings. He is bitter, angry and horrified by the same time – he fears he turned from a soldier to a killer – in other words a fully-fledged character, as multi-faceted as you like.
What disturbed me a bit:
One negative remark and connected to history so pertinent to the book I suppose – I really don’t know whether the author was aware of the fact that her sympathetic hero shares his name with one of French Revolution leaders – Louis Antoine Léon de Saint-Just, often called only Saint-Just. It wasn’t a nice guy – neither saint nor just. It’s enough to say he was the closest confidant of Maximilien Robespierre and served with him as one of the commissioners of the powerful but notorious Committee of Public Safety. Like his fictional counterpart, Delvin, he was also a skillful soldier – dispatched to the army during its rocky start in the French Revolutionary Wars, Saint-Just imposed discipline that was stunningly severe but he was widely credited for the army’s subsequent success. In the capital, he supervised the arrests and prosecutions of many of the most famous figures of the Revolution, spearheading the movement to execute King Louis XVI. Ultimately Saint-Just himself was arrested in the violent episode of 9 Thermidor and executed the next day with Robespierre. By that time his cruelty had earned him general hatred. Every time I read “St. Just” I had to shake my head and remind myself it wasn’t the French Saint Just I was reading about. I know, it is not really a flaw and it might concern nerds only but still…Ok, the history lesson is over, time for some entertainment.Titillating factor:
Sex scenes are described in minute detail – limbs, smells, sights and sounds. It is definitely adult stuff but nothing out of ordinary for readers of romantic fiction. Romance with Emmie is soothing Devlin’s nerves and other urges as well 😉 so he indulges himself. Not to mention the fact that Emmie keeps him well-fed and vigorous. Definitely hot even if a bit fluffy book. Well, the cover is the best proof I suppose. I hate it.
What I didn’t like:
My first complaint – the ending. Everything was just a tad too perfect. All problems of the main characters – miraculously solved. In other words a HEA ending – inevitable and clearly visible, even from afar. I would welcome some change and, whereas theoretically, I have no objection to HEA as such (THEORETICALLY I said!), I would like the ending to be a little bit ambiguous, with more bitterness and grit mixed in. What’s more I think the author overused insignificant secrets simply to prolong the story – it was really frustrating especially as the mystery was pretty easy to solve almost from the beginning. As I’ve already mentioned mystery, let’s progres to my biggest gripe.
The love interest of Devlin, Emmeline Farnum is a stupid, vapid cock tease of a woman. As you see, she simply wore on my nerves, that lady did. Firstly she was so hung up on her ‘secret’ that it made her the most infuriating romance character I’ve met so far. Ok, perhaps at the beginning she had a very good reason to hide her unsavoury past from Devlin but, after all, things between them progressed pretty quickly and she found out some of his secrets very early on. It seems, however, she has never heard of an honest exchange of information and/or trust-building. She lied through her teeth most of the time, allegedly for the greater good of her juvenile charge, and then cried bitterly over her own shortcomings but didn’t stop lying anyway. Some consistency, please? You can’t have PMS all the month darling so take your pick.
Secondly, she was also that type who wants to eat a cake, have a cake and, most possibly also sell a cake to her neighbour. Well, what would you think of a woman who initiates sex and the next day she is really inconsiderate and angry about it (it happens almost every time they go to bed) because, well, she shouldn’t have done it and oups, she did it again and she enjoyed herself but hey, she shouldn’t have done it and oups she did it again… At the end I started to wonder what the hell Devlin saw in her at all. Certainly not her brains. Well, who needs a romantic fiction heroine with brains – is she a zombie or what? 😉 I bet in real world a man would grow suspicious of her and would stop believing her pretty soon. It would serve her right.
The last complaint – Devlin is actually interested in cooking to the point that he can quote complicated recipes from memory. Who is he supposed to be, a nineteenth century version of Jamie Olivier? I found it rather difficult to swallow especially that before Emmie appeared on the horizon he had never been shown cooking on his own. In fact, I can hardly imagine an officer perfecting his amazing apple tart with cinnamon in the free time between a cavalry charge, killings and a bit of rapine. A major snort…
This was an easy read with a typical “he wants her/she pulls away/they have secrets” plot but definitely better than ordinary romance. The surrounding characters were fun and the ending – satisfactory if you like those syrupy HEAs. I started in the middle of the series, unsure about the writing skills and the palatability of the whole book but I suppose I will read the other two installments as well. Consider it the highest of praise. 😉