I'll probably never win another book through Goodreads' First Reads again with this review. What an anachronistic, ungrammatical, unfinished book that was.
The book opens with the widow Temperance Dews wending her way through the dank and dangerous streets of St. Giles, clutching a loaded pistol. She’s on her way back to the foundling home she runs with her younger brother, returning with her maidservant and an infant they pried from the arms of a dead young mother. Along the way, she overhears a scuffle in an alley and ends up fleeing from a frightening man with long white hair and a voluminous black cloak who she saw standing over an inert bleeding man. Not long after returning home, however, she discovers that the frightening man has let himself into her sitting room and has a proposition for her that she can’t turn down.
Lazarus Huntington, Lord Caire, is searching St. Giles for a brutal murderer and he needs help navigating the streets and the people of the dangerous slum. Seeing how easily Temperance moves around the area, and knowing that the home is in dire financial straits, he offers her money in exchange for her guidance around the slum. She accepts, but with the caveat that he also introduce her to polite society so she may find a new patron for the home.
When a book begins with a contrivance, it’s a bad sign. Why, oh why, would a scandalous peer of the realm contract the services of a respectable woman as a guide to a slum in 1737? A woman? 60 years before Mary Wollstonecraft and her A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, I’m to believe a powerful man sees a lower-class woman as some sort of valuable helper?
Ok, but this is Romancelandia, you say, suspend your disbelief, you crone. Fine, I’ll ignore that absurdity. But must I also ignore the piano at the musicale many years before composers wrote for the pianoforte, much less the piano? Or how we never find out exactly what Caire’s title is? And all the anachronistic language? Why bother writing in a unique time period - the early Georgian era - if you’re going to go all wallpaper on me? Wouldn’t it be easier to just go with the familiar Regency period if you don’t want to set a scene? Constantly substituting “of the clock” for “o’clock” does not compensate for the modern tone. Quite the opposite, it grated on me. Set against a voice that could as easily have been telling a contemporary tale, it just glared at me, like a LARPer at the mall.
So, with the time period a silly theatrical setting, I would hope there’s a strong plot to make it all worthwhile. Unfortunately, I found the book alternately boring, absurd, untidy and confusing. Really, if I hadn’t won a copy and felt duty bound to finish and review it, I’d have quit the book at page 100. The suspense plot is poorly done with no clues or red herrings for the reader to use to play along, giving its resolution a shoulder-shrugging “Oh, that person” emotional impact. The hero’s motivation for undertaking the sleuthing is never resolved, just hinted at enough to raise unanswered questions. The side plot involving Temperance’s sister Silence adds nothing to this story but sequel bait. I don’t read romance to read about unresolved marital strife.
The Ghost of St. Giles bit was freaking ridiculous. When Caire was ever fighting off hooligans back to back with a caped man in a harlequin mask with a long sword in one hand and a short sword in the other, I started to wonder if Hoyt had switched publishers and was now with Marvel Comics. There was so much going on that I never found myself invested in any of it.
I didn’t find much to like about the romance either. To begin with, I didn’t like either of the characters. Caire says terrible, insulting things to Temperance, mocking her and her dead husband because it amuses him to hurt her. He never makes amends, apologizes or grovels for it either. In fact, it’s Temperance who has to beg him to forgive her at the end. Not that she was much more likeable herself, being at times sanctimonious and others mindblowingly selfish. A breaking point came for me when her brother was sick, she just found out the home was again out of money and a baby was dying and she leaves the home unsupervised as she heads to Caire’s for some punishing rough sex. How could I respect someone so selfish?
***Slight Spoiler***The bulk of their attraction was lust, rather than any sort of nuanced emotional connection. Throughout the first third of the book, a big to-do is made of Caire’s “unnatural desires,” all the secondary characters obliquely referring to them but not offering any details. As it turns out, Caire, who finds other people touching him to be mentally and physically painful (and bonus points for having the characters discuss mental pain 150+ years before the birth of psychology), likes to tie women up during sex. Temperance, apparently, likes to be tied up and manhandled. Match made in heaven...except, Hoyt couldn’t commit to it. She tones down the bondage, having them grow out of it as a result of Twue Love, and ascribes its appeal to all sorts of psychological shortcomings. Now she decides to adhere to outdated medical info, nice. She has the characters freak out about bloodletting, which was definitely SOP then, but embrace the well-debunked idea that bondage is an unhealthy behavior one grows out of. FFS, girl, can we get some consistency please?***And moving on...***
Added to the scatterbrained plot, unlikeable characters and unbelievable romance is some rather distracting writing. I admit to being a bit of a grammar pedant, but misusing reflexive pronouns in a published novel is just sloppy. Myself, herself and yourself are not fancier ways of saying “me,” “her” or “you.” It’s not okay when work email says “Please send all further inquiries to either Bill or myself” so it’s definitely not okay in something I pay for. See previous comment on “of the clock” for not making the voice sound like authentic 18th century.
I didn’t like the book, but I didn’t hate it either, so I give it two stars. Shamelessly setting sequel bait, more anachronism than a SCA event and a limp story just left me unsatisfied. After having enjoyed so many of her previous books I’m left to conclude that either she’s changed or I have. In any case, I’m reluctant to continue the series. Disappointing.Also, the hero had long white hair. Long white hair = Sephiroth. Too weird.