Edward Clark is a wounded, dangerous man: deserted by his closest family at a young age, he’s been forced to live a life of crime, lies, horrors and deceit. He managed to survive, prosper even, but it took a heavy toll on him. Now he is a cynical, pessimistic scoundrel: handsome , immoral and unpredictable. He returns to England to get his revenge on a brother who falsely proclaimed him dead those many years ago and left him without any assistance in a war zone.
Frederica (Free) Marshall is a fearless, dangerous woman : she’ll stop at nothing to get what she wants. She’d had herself committed to a government-operated lock hospital where they held prostitutes suspected of carrying venereal diseases and had stayed for twenty-six days there, pretending to be one of them – ruthlessly examined, mistreated, starved, and frozen – just to get prime reportage material. Now she edits and prints a suffragette newspaper while being ridiculed, intimidated, threatened and, from time to time, even imprisoned. Her personal reputation is non-existent and she fears no scoundrel; still arson, plagiarizing her texts and personal assault on her employees are another matter – she feels she has to defend her people and punish the culprits.
When Edward offers Free his help, even if skeptical she silently admits she can’t afford to say ‘no’ – in her position every ally, even an unscrupulous one with his own hidden agenda, is a gift from heaven. Yes, she needs her personal scoundrel rather badly; still will she be able to accept the price?
What I liked:
Frederica Marshall was a very likeable heroine: educated, intelligent, funny, brave, driven but not narrow-minded, with so much social conscience it would be actually more than enough for several people. I enjoyed her difficult cooperation and banter with Edward in the first half of the book enormously but, alas, it was too good to last long.
It was also very nice to meet characters from the previous parts of the series: their roles were fairly significant too.
In the first part Edward Clark was a broken hero or rather a three-dimensional almost-baddie: if he only stayed true to himself I would adore him to no end. By the way I noticed that Ms Milan usually leaves the most damaged characters for her series dessert; it was the case of the Turner series, Smite being left as the last of the brothers to get his HEA, and it was repeated in the Brothers Sinister series. I admit such an order suits me fine.
What I didn’t like:
– Although they were supposed to be the same character, Edward Clark from the first part of the book has few things in common with Edward Delacey, lord Claridge from the second part (and no, not because his freshly acquired title and wealth). While the first was funny, cunning, specious even, but invariably interesting to read about, the second one was significantly dumbed down and, frankly speaking, too mushy and naïve to hold my interest any longer. If this is supposed to be a case study of a positive influence of love, find me a negative one…
– The main baddie, Edward’s younger brother, James, could have been a tad cleverer and braver too. Many times I felt he was too stupid to live and his shortcomings were so obvious that sometimes I wondered why it took Edward so long to expose him. After all James could have incriminated himself without any aide – many times over, mind you.
– There were a tad too many coincidences in the plot. First Frederica and Edward met by serendipity just because they happened to cheer the same man during the Boat Race (Oxford vs. Cambridge). Ok – I could swallow that much. Then that man, Stephen Shaugnessy, turns out to be Edward’s childhood buddy who, surprise, surprise, happens to work for Free’s newspaper as the only male contributor (pure luck of course but…how come? Oh whatever.). Then Edward finds out that he and his own younger bro, James, unbeknown to each other fancy the same woman (Free). Riiiight. Then it turns out that Free’s daddy dearest is, quite coincidentally of course, Edward’s childhood much venerated pugilist hero…I know, I know – there are weirder coincidences in real life; still coincidences in fiction should be kept in firm check – if they aren’t, they turn too easily into cop-outs of the most predictable sort.
– The final misunderstanding between Free and Ed, concerning his family and title, sounded a bit spurious. Overall I would like the ending much better if Frederica found out about different facts concerning Edward’s past if not earlier then at least completely on her own. She was an investigative reporter, a woman with enough intelligence, spunk and resources to do some serious research; what’s more, she was pretty much aware her beloved wasn’t completely honest with her and she had a lot of time while Edward was in France. Where was her professional and private curiosity? What was she waiting for? A round of applause?
– The final solution of our accidental aristocrats re how to combine peerage and significant wealth with radical social and political views, smacked of communism in its most idealistic and, in my very humble opinion, most primitve variation. Somebody like Edward and somebody like Frederica, two people who saw at close quarters the debilitating effects of poverty and social debasement, should really have known better. BTW all the problems connected to Free’s newspaper melt into the background for a significant part of the novel which, I admit, made me question her character’s dedication and credentials as the owner and the editor of one.
– the cover: the colors are nice, the girl is nice but it is MOST DEFINITELY NOT a suffragette. Do you want to see real historical 19th century British suffragettes? Here you go:
– last but not least: the lesbian romance of two secondary characters felt as something artificial, added just as an afterthought or to increase the page count. I might be wrong (I often am) but I imagine Ms Milan thinking: “how should I jazz up my newest novel so it differs from the rest a bit? A gay couple? It’s been already featured. A mixed race romance? Drat, done as well. Oh I know- as it’s about freaking suffragettes, let’s take two lesbians this time. They might be a bit bland but they’ll have to do.”
Not a bad book, far better than your ordinary historical romance novels, but also not a brilliant one. Overall I still think the Turner series was better – Miranda, darling (or alternatively Miranda Darling), a practical lesson in a creative usage of a comma from Unraveled, was funnier and more original than those exclamation points and Smite never got as mushy as Edward.
My reviews of other books in this series: