Amongst the gossip-hungry ton, no name has become more synonymous with sin than that of Lady Caroline Rider, cast out by her husband and disowned by her family. Rumour has it that the infamous Caro is now seeking oblivion in the opium dens of London!
There’s only one man who can save her: notorious rake Sebastian Conway, Marquis of Ardhallow. Soon Caro is installed in his country home, warming his bed, but their passion may not be enough to protect them once news of their scandalous arrangement breaks out.
I think that all of us have to honestly own up to the fact that we guard our reputations with care at every juncture in our lives. Even in today’s world where “anything goes,” a good reputation is worth its weight in gold. This was especially true in this novel set in the 19th century when little value was given to the inner qualities of an individual. Rather, one’s wealth and social connections, one’s family and their social and political importance was what was truly valued. This was a reality that Lady Caroline learned painfully and one within which she was forced to live by an uncaring husband and a family who turned away from her when she needed them the most. Little wonder that Lord Sebastian found her intoxicated with opiates to such a degree that he feared for her life.
This novel is not your Barbara Cartland type of Regency, full of witticisms and humor, conforming to the tried and true format of most historical romances. This story is about trouble with a capital “T” and all of it falling on a woman who simply wanted to escape a marriage forced upon her by an uncaring father whose sole purpose was to be sure his offspring fared splendidly in the game of Marriage Chess. Little care was given to the difficulties his daughters must suffer at the hand of abusive or neglectful spouses. There is most definitely a very dark side to this novel and an edgy sense throughout. The story content is very good and the writing is wonderful. The author has kept the tension level consistent throughout and the reader has no doubt that Lady Caroline was in a terrible situation had it not been for some gutsy people who were willing to go to bat for her in attempting to bring some semblance of peace to her life. That she had an opportunity to find love is also a part of this, especially as she had been victimized by father and husband, both of whom looked upon her as an inanimate possession. Her worth had decreased steadily as the years went by without a child so that it was of little consequence to ruin her in the hopes that she would die of in some way free up her husband so he could move on to the next “baby machine.”
I found this novel to be particularly engaging. I love historical romance but I really love those romances that bring a new twist, a new sense of a different reality to the story. This author has given us a novel that will hold the attention right from the beginning and will engage the imagination of the reader to an extraordinary degree. This story is indeed a love story but it is not an easy one to read. No easy solutions here. No bright and fluffy romps or easy friendship. To be Caroline’s friend was to invite the same fate that had tainted her. The people in this novel are gutsy and know exactly what it will cost them to get involved with her or to offer any assistance. She is a throw-away human being and the fact that she is a woman makes throwing her away even easier.
Lord Sebastian is a fascinating character as well. He is an acknowledged rake of some sizable proportion yet when he retires to his country estate he is quite frankly a recluse. He seems to prize his seclusion as much as he does his ability to live scandalously when he is in London. He does indeed understand Caro’s situation but it takes him a bit of time to come around to supporting her efforts to reclaim her life. Here again the author has written a character that is most definitely “outside the box” and one that will perk up the interests of those romance fans that are getting a bit jaded at the usual Regency tale.
I found this novel to be vastly entertaining and one that was difficult, if not impossible to put down. Read it in one sitting, if truth be told. Loved the fact that there were no easy solutions and no obvious resolution to the crisis of the story. It is always more interesting to me if even a romance novel doesn’t give up its secrets too easily. I had not read anything by this author previously but I was impressed with her obvious control of the writing craft, her economical use of words–she said exactly what she meant–and the full and thorough way she developed these very unusual people. I found some of the background or peripheral characters to be very interesting and all of them were absolutely necessary to the story. No packing the gallery on this one, folks.
So I hope you’ll get this book and come to enjoy it as much as I have. Again I emphasize that this will not be an easy book to read but I think the time and effort spent on doing so will prove well worth it. I give it a rating of 4.25 out of 5.
You can read more from Judith at Dr J’s Book Place.