Pros: Interesting plot, characters have real problems to overcome.
Cons: It's a romance, with a very predictable ending. But I knew that already.
Every now and then I get really lucky and come across an historical romance author that I actually like. That's getting pretty rare these days, as I've gotten older and more picky about what I spend my time reading. But two things have struck me about Elizabeth Hoyt's series -- for once, it's not a Regency period romance, and secondly, her characters actually have a bit of brains in them and real problems to cope with.
In the second book in the series, Jasper Renshaw, Viscount Vale, finds himself jilted by his would-be bride at the altar. For a peer of the realm, it can be a humiliating experience, especially when the other man is a blond curate. But rescue arrives when one of the guests offers herself as a substitute. For Lord Vale, it's a heaven sent opportunity, as he figures that one woman is pretty much like another.
But Melisande Fleming is something else entirely.
She's not the usual sort of miss to be found in London Society. For one, she's had to deal with the pain of being jilted herself, having an engagement broken off when her would-be husband found a woman with more money. And faced with the prospect of being spinster in the home of her married brother and his wife -- both horrible bores -- she took the most available means out. It might not be very much a marriage made in affection, and Melisande may come off as a bit of an opportunist, but it's also hard to not feel some sympathy for her.
Besides, she once had a glimpse of Lord Vale in a very unguarded moment and she fell for him on the spot. Not that she'd ever reveal that -- Melisande has learnt to keep secrets close to her, and having been once burnt at love, she isn't about to let it happen to her again.
As for Jasper, he may have gone into this marriage as an arrangement of convenience, but he quickly finds out that Melisande has quite a few secrets of her own, and they are ones that may be too painful to uncover. Too, he is still remembering his time soldiering in the American colonies, and the events at Spinner Falls, where his regiment was betrayed to the Indians. He has survived, but at a terrible price to his own soul. When he discovers that there may have been a traitor -- and one that is still in London -- he has to balance his relationship with his new wife with the hunt for vengeance...
Balancing this is the much lighter story of Melisande's maid, Sally Suchlike (!) and Jasper's great brute of a valet, Mr. Pynch. I have to say I rather liked Mr. Pynch, and his rather taciturn ways. Sally is nothing but a handful of trouble, but she's likeable as well. What really helps is that the author was smart to let this couple carry a lot of the humour in the novel, and give the reader a bit of a respite from the darker doings of the story.
Another good factor is the setting of Georgian London, about 1765, which isn't used too often in historical romances. It's a great break from the usual Regency or Tudor period settings, and the author was smart enough not to work in too many anachronisms into the story. The plot devices that she uses to cause conflict between the main characters to force them to learn to trust and open up to each other was believable -- I wonder how many young women found themselves in Melisande's situation -- and while the ending is certainly predictable (it is a romance, after all) I did find it at least interesting.
While the sexual encounters read rather modern, and I found the use of some of the language during those encounters very crude, at least it sizzles, and only towards the end of the story did it get tiresome to read. Too, as the other books do have, there is a fairy tale that is excerpted at the start of each chapter and it's a cute, if rather dull, story. Sadly, it is utterly forgettable as well, which is too bad.
In addition to the story, there is a preview of the next book in the series, To Beguile a Beast, and we get a bit of foreshadowing of the two main characters in the main narrative as well. Fortunately, there's not too much given away.
I liked this one. The author kept the silly factors down and the things that I usually detest in historical novels of any sort. While the sexual content does get to be modern sounding at times, it doesn't overwhelm the story as too many of these sorts of books do, and I enjoyed the story of these two tormented people who finally figure out how to work out their problems together. And that's always something positive to see.
Four stars overall, and recommended.
The Legend of the Four Soldiers Series:
To Taste Temptation
To Seduce a Sinner -- you are here
To Beguile a Beast
To Desire a Devil
To Seduce a Sinner
2008; Forever, Hachette Book Group, USA