The year is 1881. Meet the Mackenzie family–rich, powerful, dangerous, eccentric. A lady couldn’t be seen with them without ruin. Rumors surround them–of tragic violence, of their mistresses, of their dark appetites, of scandals that set England and Scotland abuzz.
The youngest brother, Ian, known as the Mad Mackenzie, spent most of his young life in an asylum, and everyone agrees he is decidedly odd. He’s also hard and handsome and has a penchant for Ming pottery and beautiful women.
Beth Ackerley, widow, has recently come into a fortune. She has decided that she wants no more drama in her life. She was raised in drama–an alcoholic father who drove them into the workhouse, a frail mother she had to nurse until her death, a fussy old lady she became constant companion to. No, she wants to take her money and find peace, to travel, to learn art, to sit back and fondly remember her brief but happy marriage to her late husband.
And then Ian Mackenzie decides he wants her.
This book was released to much fanfare in Blogland last year. I was in a historical slump at the time and decided not to pick it up. Especially since my reaction tends to be the opposite as everyone else’s when something is wildly popular. I’m truly sorry I didn’t pick it up sooner, however. It was a lovely story.
Ian was such a beautifully drawn hero. I made the mistake of reading Lady Isabella’s Scandalous Marriage, the second book in this series, first. Generally it doesn’t bother me, but in this case I think it gave me some wrong impressions about certain things. Ian, for example. He’s written so differently in the second book. Or perhaps not differently, but without the benefit of seeing things from his point of view, he comes across much less…I’m not sure what word I’m looking for, “here” perhaps, or “grounded” maybe? Much less connected, I suppose. I had also formed opinions about some of the other characters that were challenged in this book.
Ian has Asperger’s, a form of autism. Since autism hadn’t been diagnosed then, he was considered insane and put into an asylum. Once his father – a right cruel bastard – died, his oldest brother, Hart, rescued him. Since then Ian has gained a reputation as being an eccentric. He may be a bit odd, but that doesn’t stop polite society from wanting to be seen with him. Especially Sir Lyndon Mather, the man widow Beth Ackerly has recently become engaged to.
Beth is ready to settle into a quiet life. Through a series of unexpected events, she is now a wealthy heiress. At first she wants to get married again, and have the same sort of comfortable life she knew with her first husband. But after Ian explains how Mather has deceived her, she decides she’d rather just travel and perhaps learn to paint, or something equally restful.
Ian warns her away from Sir Mather, who is only marrying Beth to gain control of her fortune so he can further support his perversions. But the strangest thing happens to Ian once he meets Beth face-to-face; he wants her for himself. And once Ian wants something, he stops at nothing until he has it.
Ian is such a refreshing hero. He comes off as arrogant and full of himself, but it isn’t long before we realize he’s just intense. Once he focuses on something it consumes him, leaving him unable to focus on anything else. Once that tunnel vision is focused solely on Beth, I was just as swept away as she was. I love how Ashely took the time to develop his character, showcasing his strengths and his weaknesses. He might be a bit touched in the head, but he’s also brilliant, caring and driven.
I absolutely loved that Beth cared for him almost immediately. She realizes early on that he isn’t like other men – that something truly may be wrong with him – but she doesn’t shy away from him, or look on him with pity. She also doesn’t waver in her belief in him and his basic goodness. Not once does she think him demented, or capable of truly harming someone.
There is a mystery plot woven throughout their romance and courtship, but I wasn’t as interested in that aspect as I was Ian and Beth. It isn’t that it wasn’t well done, and it did add another layer to Ian’s character, but it didn’t grab my attention the way the character development did.
The scene with Ian and Beth at the end reduced me to tears, it was so touching. The way Ian’s feelings for her seemed to blossom over the course of the story was beautifully written. I just wanted to eat him up.
The secondary characters, Ian’s brothers, their valets, Inspector Fellows and Ian’s sister-in-law Isabella especially, really added extra zing to the story. All four brothers were intriguing, and Ashely managed to add their flair to the story without detracting from the main protagonists.
There was a revelation at the end that seemed to come out of left field, especially since I read the 2nd book first and wasn’t given a hint. I’m sure the reason it was brought forward will be revealed in later books, but for now I was left scratching my head over it. Yes, I realize it explained the actions of some of the characters, but otherwise it seemed..odd.
That aside, I felt this was a beautifully told story of love, redemption and acceptance. It really touched my heart.
4.5 out of 5
I’m probably the last person alive to read this, but just in case I’m not, I’m going to give a copy away. Interested in winning? Leave a comment on this post before 11:50 p.m., Thursday July 15th and you’ll be entered to win.