If I were to sum up this book in one word, it would be “inconsistent.”
I would only recommend this book to fans of this particular writer or someone not interested in reading the best-written romance novels out there. Don’t get me wrong; I love a good… er… trashy romance novel as much as the next person. And I ultimately did enjoy reading this book. But potential readers should approach this book with certain (read: low) expectations. The crux of my issues came down to character inconsistencies and clichés. While Ashley’s main characters are complex, interesting, and, for the most part, relatable, rather too frequently they act in an odd fashion, breaking either from previous characterization, historical inconsistencies, or any rational motive. (I’ve documented specific instances below, if you’re not afraid of spoilers.)
For those of you readers looking for a better-written romance, I would point you in the direction of: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon; Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman; Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë; or anything Jane Austen. For romance novels requiring less commitment, there is Nora Roberts (her Jewels of the Sun trilogy is my favorite), Judith McNaught (Almost Heaven was the first novel of that kind that I’d ever read, and therefore has a special place in my heart), Jeanine Frost, and Bridgette Asher.
SPOILERS BELOW THIS POINT
My main complaints come at the beginning and ending of the book. So, without further ado…
The book stretches the reader’s belief right from the get-go, with our heroine, Alexandra, rescuing the hero, Grayson, from death by hanging. I appreciate what the author is trying to do by establishing Alexandra as a brave, does-it-herself kind of person. And yet I find it improbable that a lady, in London, in 1810, would a) enter a bachelor’s house uninvited in the middle of the night (especially when a big to-do is made about his house being opened to the public later in the book) instead of notifying authorities, and b) let him “ravish” her after saving him. Especially when the intention is to portray her as being a person who can stick up to the men. And it being established that she’s so well bred (in fact, the granddaughter of a Duke). AND in search of a new, respectable husband. (I don’t give one fig that she’s a widow. In fact, it makes the situation worse. She knows about the birds and the bees, more or less, and still lets Grayson roll all over her. Literally. In front of her servants.) And then this whole nonsense about Grayson “commanding” her to sleep naked. And her complying.
See what I mean? Inconsistent.
Then the rivalry between Grayson and his arch-nemesis, Ardmore, is revealed. For people who hate each other so much, they sure spend a LOT of time in each other’s company throughout the book. They even have mutual employees. Strange. The first time Grayson rescues Alexandra is improbable, as well. For as much as Ardmore hates Grayson, and the trouble he went through to abduct Alexandra, Grayson literally walks away with her while Ardmore stands by idly. In this instance I’m thinking the author was trying to ramp up the tension by seeing our main characters successfully defeat greater and greater obstacles. By having this scene happen so early in the book, the order of magnitude is thrown out of whack.
If you manage to ignore these issues, you’re rewarded with some smooth, enjoyable reading for a while.
Then the writing gets rough again.
I believe that a lot of the end-of-book issues could have been resolved either by the elimination of Burchard, or her (his? it is unclear what the character’s preferred gender pronouns would be) consolidation with other “bad” characters. The way s/he acts immediately before his/her death is cliché and improbable in the extreme. For someone so interested in cultivating the enmity between Grayson and Ardmore, s/he is sure quick to make it easier for them to work together after her/his detailed explanation of everything s/he’s done to goad them on, evil-villain-speach style. Ultimately this is the unfortunate incident of the author trying to wrap things up in too nice and pretty of a bow.
In summation, I wouldn’t be quick to write Ashley off as a poor writer. She has good instincts and admirable intentions. I want to emphasize that I DID ENJOY this book, for all of my dissecting and criticism. Her book merely suffers from not enough editing.
*The book appears to have been re-released as of April 2012 (and with a MUCH better cover, might I add.) My review pertains to the first edition, published in 2003.