Sebastian Malheur has been scandalising polite society for years with his scientific lectures on the passing on of genetic traits, to the point where riots are now likely to break out when he presents any new findings. The truth, however, is that the discoveries he presents as his own, are actually those of his best friend, Violet Waterfield, the widowed Countess of Cambury. Violet is as proper and respectable as Sebastian is scandalous and reviled. But now Sebastian refuses to be Violet’s decoy any longer.
Violet’s marriage was not a happy one, and she sought refuge in her scientific discoveries. The daughter of a woman who wrote the ultimate guide to proper ladies’ behaviour, Violet is all that is respectable, decorous and decent. Yet Violet and her sister learned early, after their father committed suicide, that there were unwritten shadow rules as well as the written official rules, and most of them amounted to a lady doing anything in her power to keep scandal from her family’s door, using any method at her disposal. If the truth were to come out, that the shocking discoveries that Sebastian has been presenting, were actually all the work of a woman, the scandal would be immense and instantaneous. More on my blog.
This is the third book in a series, and while romance novels are normally fine to read out of sequence, some of the really awesome developments in this book lose a lot if you haven’t read the rest of the series. These books are top notch romance, so just do yourself a favour and start at the beginning with A Rogue by Any Other Name. And yes, I know the titles are spectacularly cheesy. I recently discovered in a podcast that these are MacLean’s own puns, not anything imposed on her by the publishers. I don’t know whether to be impressed or slightly worried about her.
The great hulking brute known as Temple also goes The Killer Duke. He is one of four disgraced members of the aristocracy who own luxury gambling club The Fallen Angel. When the rich and foolish have lost too much, and have no other recourse, they can fight Temple in the Angel’s boxing ring. Should they win, all their losses will be restored. Not that anyone ever has, but it never stops them from trying. William Harrow, the Duke of Lamont, shunned by most of polite society because he is suspected of having killed his father’s fiancee, is more than happy to take every beating coming, because he’s honestly not entirely sure he doesn’t deserve his moniker.
Twelve years earlier, he awoke with only the haziest memories of the night before, to discover that the bewitching beauty who’d invited him up to her room was Miss Mara Lowe, his father’s sixteen-year-old child bride and soon to be the Duke’s third wife. There was no sign of the bride, only him, naked in sheets soaked in blood. Never convicted as there wasn’t a body, Temple was nonetheless driven from polite society, and survived in the less prosperous parts of town because of his boxing prowess. Now, walking home one evening, he is approached by a woman revealing herself to be Mara Lowe, who, desperate to escape her wedding, did an incredibly foolish thing twelve years ago, and has been in hiding ever since. More on my blog.
Briony Asquith and Leo Marsden grew up on neighbouring estates. Leo loved Briony long before she was even aware of him as anything but the baby Marsden, youngest of four brothers. So when the brilliant, yet socially awkward lady physician proposed to outgoing, talented renaissance man Leo, he was elated, but no one else in society thought it would last. And it didn’t. Growing increasingly more distant and cold from their wedding day, Briony starts to actually recoil from Leo’s touch, and no matter how he tries to get her to open up, physically and emotionally, their marriage seems doomed. When Briony wakes up one morning with a stark white stripe through her dark hair, she files for an annulment.
Three years later, Leo shows up at Briony’s medical clinic in a remote corner of India. Briony’s sister has been writing both of them for years with melodramatic stories trying to push the two back together, but this time he’s fairly certain she’s not lying about Briony’s father’s health being in danger. Much of India is at the the brink of rebellion, and he feels it’s his duty to get Briony back to England safely. Leo doesn’t know exactly why their marriage failed, but he’s convinced it must have been his fault, that he failed or mistreated her in some way.
Briony is not convinced her sister isn’t lying once again, but she also knows that she would never forgive herself if her father dies and she did not try to return to his bedside. She reluctantly goes with Leo, uncomfortable in his presence, but with no other choice of escort. As the couple make their way through the rough Indian countryside, dealing with first Leo’s malaria, then a violent and bloody native rebellion as they seek refuge in a nearby fort, they find that the three years apart may have allowed both of them to heal some of their hurts, and open up lines of communication to the other. Can they finally talk about all the things that made their all too brief marriage so miserable, and maybe begin to forgive each other and themselves? More on my blog.
Felix Rivendale, the Marquess of Wrenworth is known in society as “the Ideal Gentleman”. He is handsome, wealthy, charming, generous and famous for his lavish hospitality. Men want to be him, or at least his good friend, and it goes without saying that he’s the most eligible bachelor on the market. He’s clearly not a virgin, but there is not a whiff of scandal surrounding him, either. Few, if any, suspect that his cheerful and impeccable demeanour is a clearly constructed facade. Having been used as a pawn in the emotional warfare his parents conducted against each other, he’s become deeply distrustful of strong emotions, and a master at manipulating those around them so subtly that they believe his suggestions are their own.
Miss Louisa Cantwell is the daughter of a country baron and and one of five sisters, none of whom are likely to snag the wealthy husband needed to secure the family’s fortunes. She is neither particularly financially or physically desirable as a bride, but is also fully aware of it, and has worked tirelessly for the last eight years to plan her perfect season. Using every trick in the book, including bust improvers to make it look as if nature gave her a generous bosom, she’s determined to find a husband by the end of the season, preferably not one who’s too disagreeable. She’s found two likely candidates, and uses every chance she gets to cultivate them and their relatives. She wouldn’t dream of setting her sights on Lord Wrenworth, and is rather appalled with herself when they finally meet and she’s both overwhelmed with lust for him, while at the same time convinced that he’s a scoundrel, who can see right through all her. She’s wondering why no one else suspects that he’s not entirely as he seems.
So what happens next? Read the full review on my blog.
Young Margaret Hale’s life is turned on its head when her father, a parson from the South of England, renounces his position because he experiences a crisis of faith. He moves his anxious wife and dutiful daughter to the factory town of Milton Northern, where he’s going to work as a tutor. The town, a bustling result of the Industrial Revolution, is full of cotton mills, soot and smoke, a stark contrast to the pastoral idyll of the Southern English countryside. With the loss of Mr. Hale’s living, the family is in severely reduced financial circumstances, (not helped by the fact that they keep sending money to Margaret’s brother who is wanted for mutiny in England, and as a result living in exile in Spain) and can’t really afford more than a modest lifestyle. Margaret bravely adapts fairly quickly, but her mother never feels happy or comfortable in Milton and her health gradually deteriorates.
In Milton, the main social interaction the Hales have is with Mr. John Thornton, a mill owner who leases from Mr. Hale’s best friend, Mr. Bell (Margaret’s godfather). Thornton’s father drove his family into debt and further caused scandal when he committed suicide. Thornton had to quit school, and take a position as a shop clerk to support his sister and widowed mother. Putting aside most of what he earned, he slowly and quietly worked to repay all his father’s debts and became a respected and formidable man in Milton. His mother is a proud and arrogant woman who loves her son fiercely, constantly worried some fortune-hunting young miss will get her claws into him.
Disclaimer! I was given an ARC of this book from Random House via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and impartial review. A Study in Silks is out now. The sequel comes out at the end of this month, and the concluding volume in the trilogy will be out in December.
Evelina Cooper is the niece of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes. Her mother ran off with a circus performer, and Evelina grew up in said circus. Her mother got sick and died, and eventually Evelina’s grandmama Holmes tracked her down, fetched her home from the circus, did her best to gentrify Evelina, and sent her to a posh boarding school. There Evelina befriended Imogen Roth, daughter of Lord Bancroft, and although he doesn’t really approve of his daughter’s boon companion, the two girls are set to start their first Season together. Evelina just has to keep secret her interest in mechanics, as that’s unladylike, and that she can do magic, as magic users are persecuted and arrested. Best case scenario after arrest is death, but they may also be sent to Her Majesty’s laboratories, where very nefarious things might happen.
With me so far? Evelina is in love with Imogen’s brother Tobias, Lord Bancroft’s heir, but knows full well that he is far above her station. Also he’s a total rake. Unexpectedly, her childhood sweetheart Nick shows up in her room. He still works at the circus, and has magic abilities of his own. Magic that when he and Evelina get close to each other spark so strongly that it would be impossible for them to ever hide it. Hence they are doomed as a couple too. A servant girl is murdered, and Evelina tries to investigate, hoping that the case might be solved before scandal befalls her friend’s family. Lord Bancroft orders Tobias to seduce Evelina to keep her from investigating, but he refuses, because he genuinely likes her, and won’t ruin her reputation.
In an alternate Civil War America where magic not only exists, but is changing the world. Warlocks train as elite enforcers for the government, and there are all manner of glorious new inventions helped along by magic. Miss Emily Edwards is a witch living in rural Sierra Nevada, trying to compete against the shiny promises of mail order patent magics. Her adopted father, who taught her everything she knows, is now blind, and they’re facing starvation and possibly worse unless Emily comes up with something clever soon. In her desperation, she casts a love spell on the most prosperous settler in town, but it backfires badly, and when she finds herself with a magical stone embedded in her hand, she’s forced to leave town quickly before she’s driven out.
Reluctantly accepting the aid of the pompous and and condescending college-trained New York warlock Dreadnought Stanton (who was sent to Emily’s little town for unknown reasons), Emily finds herself pursued by several different factions of warlocks, all wanting the magical artifact she carries. They travel from San Francisco across the country, with their straits becoming more and more dire and their enemies more ruthless the closer they get to New York.
This is the second full novel in the series of The Brothers Sinister. While the book works as a stand alone, it probably works even better if you’ve at least read The Governess Affair (a novella about the hero’s parents).
Jane Fairfield is loud, and rude and dresses atrociously. She is also an heiress with one hundred thousand pounds, desperately trying to scare off any and all who might offer for her. She is also the product of her mother’s affair, and her younger sister’s uncle (and legal guardian) won’t let her forget it for a second. He wants her married off as soon as possible, but Jane can’t leave her sister, who has an unspecified medical condition (probably a mild form of epilepsy) which means said uncle keeps inviting a long line of unscrupulous medical “experts” to try all manner of horrors in the name of science, trying to cure her. She needs to scare away men, not befriend them.
Oliver Marshall is the illegitimate son of the former Duke of Clairmont, and half-brother of the current one (the hero in The Duchess War). He wants to go into politics, representing the common people and due to his background has to do absolutely everything right. He needs powerful allies, and can’t set a foot wrong. While he seethes inside to have to curry favour from the same spoiled nobles who tormented him at Eton and Cambridge, he doesn’t have a choice if he wants to win his seat in the House of Commons. Befriending the biggest social disgrace of Cambridge society certainly is not going to do his future career any good.
Read why I couldn’t rate this book higher – on my blog.
Jonathan Redmond is the youngest of the Redmond sons. His eldest brother is missing, off doing God knows what (but rumours suggest it may be piracy). His brother Miles is a famous explorer, disowned by their father because he married someone the powerful Isaiah Redmond didn’t approve of. Miles wants to be an investor, and would like his father’s help to invest in a printing business specialising prints. His father coldly dismisses his ideas, and reveals that he sees his son as little more than a pretty face and an irresponsible rake. He claims Jonathan needs to settle down with a wife in the next six months, or he’s going to cut off his allowance.
Jonathan doesn’t really feel that his rakish reputation is deserved. Young eligible women keep throwing themselves at him, because of his looks, family name and connections. They keep misinterpreting things he says while dancing with them as promises, and suffer broken hearts when he doesn’t court them. Determined to prove his father wrong, Jonathan needs to find fellow investors elsewhere. He finds an unlikely one in Thomasina de Ballesteros, a beautiful young woman driving the young men of London to distraction. Her mother was a famous courtesan, and now she charms gentlemen at exclusive salons. No one knows that in the evenings, she risks her life rescuing children from ruthless employers and finding them new and better homes. In return for supplying Jonathan with funds to start up the coloured printing business, Tommy (yes, I hate the nickname, but got used to it as the book went on) ropes Jonathan into helping her on a couple of rescue missions. More on my blog.
This is the third and final book in the Lost Lords of Pembrook trilogy. It can obviously be read in isolation, but I suspect it works better if you’ve read at least one of the preceding novels about the two eldest brothers, the first of which is She Tempts the Duke.
Lord Rafe Easton was ten when his uncle killed his father, and tried to have him and his two older twin brothers murdered. Saved by the daughter of the neighbouring estate, Mary, the brothers escaped the tower they were locked in, and ran away. Sebastian (the oldest by a few minutes) became a soldier (and eventually horribly scarred Two-Face style in the Crimean war), Tristan was sold to a ship’s captain and worked his way up to become a successful captain (and sometime privateer). Rafe was left at a workhouse, because his brothers (then 14), had no idea what horrifying conditions the children there suffered and what a fate they condemned their baby brother to.
Now the proprietor of a successful gambling club (this seems to be a really common way for the heroes of Romancelandia to support themselves), Rafe is happy that they’ve got their revenge on their uncle, Sebastian is restored to his rightful title as the Duke of Keswick with Mary at his side, Tristan has found love and is also happily settled. He is not really interested in spending a lot of time with his brothers, though, as he’s unable to completely blame them for the years of torment he went through in the poorest areas of London, fighting his way through the seedy underworld. His life has taught him that everyone abandons him, sooner or later, and so it’s best just not to get attached to them in the first place.
Until he meets the very special someone who can crack his hardened and bitter shell, obviously. To find out how that all plays out, go to my blog.