This 2002 release from author Carolyn Jewel has been on my TBR list ever since I read her RITA-nominated Scandal in early 2009. It is out of print and I had trouble finding a used copy; eventually it became the only book of hers that I hadn’t read. (Disclosure, as always, that Carolyn is a personal friend, although my fondness for her writing pre-dated that.) But it was totally worth the wait.
Anne Sinclair is a wonderful heroine. The oldest daughter of the house, she’s the only one who’s not drop-dead gorgeous; she rather expects to remain a spinster, care for her aging parents and eventually live with one of her sisters (who will all make brilliant marriages, of course). She has a tendré, as they say, for a man who wanted to marry her a few years before the book starts, but her father rejected him as unsuitable, and Anne did not put up much of a fight. This former suitor is now rich and titled, but Anne doesn’t expect him to still be interested in her. Until he starts showing signs that he is.
But Devon, the faithful suitor, is not our hero. That’s clear early on in the book; point of view and romance convention let the reader know that’s the brooding, womanizing Ruan, Duke of Cynsser. A series of mistakes and coincidences lands Cynsser and Anne in a forced marriage, and that’s where most of the conventional romance runs out.
Cynsser and Anne really have to work at finding happiness in their marriage — great sex is all they have for most of the book (and they have quite a bit of it). Their feelings for others (Anne’s for Devon, Cynsser’s for his sometime mistress, Kate) don’t just vanish, nor do the other man and other woman have to be demonized to validate the main characters’ feelings. It’s messy, not neat and tidy, and I love that.
Experienced heroes (rakes, womanizers and the like) don’t always work for me. I wasn’t sure Lord Ruin (as Ruan is nicknamed) was going to prove strong enough to accept what Anne had to offer, and that tension is what I like best in a forced marriage plot. Where I would expect any woman with an ounce of self-respect to walk away from a man who can’t appreciate her, the marriage gives her a reason to stay.
Anne has backbone and stands up to Cynsser, but the constraints of their circumstances (and their powerful mutual attraction) keep them together long enough for him to come to his senses and prove to her that he has. That dimension sometimes gets neglected in historical romance; I don’t like it when all the hero has to do is say “Oh I get it, I love you!” and all his previous bad treatment of her is forgiven. I was pleased at Anne’s quiet strength and how her sense of self-worth developed in response to her situation and her feelings for Cynsser — married to Devon, I doubt she would have discovered such inner strength. I do love a romance where the characters challenge each other and make each other better, stronger people.
My used copy of the book had this delightful notation:
I took it as a recommendation, but your mileage may vary!
Carolyn posted this same picture on her blog, where she also announced that she has the rights back to Lord Ruin and will be making it available as a digital download early in 2011.