0 out of 5 stars
Cut to the Chase:
Halfway through this book, all I could think was: how much more is there? I finished reading it not because I derived any enjoyment from the story, but because I’m the type of person who has to finish a book. The plot twists vacillated from fantastically unbelievable to just plain wearisome and the love story of the main characters was forced, underdeveloped, and completely unsatisfying. The most interesting parts of the novel were small side plots about an impregnated maid, a Maypole party, and descriptions of the Russian landscape. Think of it this way: I suffered through this book so you don’t have to!
Anastasia Kaptereva starts off in jail, awaiting her execution. She has been accused of being a witch who has murdered her former fiancée, a malevolent opium-addicted, homosexual Russian prince. She can’t remember the details, but she was holding a bloody weapon and keeps seeing him in her nightmares. She’s sentenced to death and hatches a dangerous plot to escape, taking a sleeping potion and arranging to have her uncle dig up her body and convey her to cousins in England. There, she assumes the identity of a governess and falls in love with her employer.
Lord Lucas Stokehurst is a widower with a very sour disposition (believing that he can never love anyone as he loved his deceased wife Mary) a mistress who plots to marry him, a hook for an arm (amputated after the fire that took his wife), and a tempestuous 12-year-old daughter he can’t quite handle.
It’s not that the background details here aren’t interesting – and if they had become developed characters, maybe this would have been a good read. Instead, Kleypas is so busy describing the details of their past, weaving in a series of flashbacks in-between their moody broodings, that our characters really don’t interact enough to make their love story believable. Halfway through the book, we’re just told that Lucas has fallen in love with Tasia. They have sex, he pretends to send her away… which really means he has his servants convey her to a cottage so they can have more sex and also get to know each other.
The fact that they seem to have developed feelings for one another is just sort of sprung on us; Lucas seems to suddenly transform from loving his first wife to literally saying “we had our good times” but that what he feels for Tasia is an adult man’s love. The plots twists of a fortune teller, various premonitions, a maniacal Russian prince seeking revenge, the truth about Tasia’s fiance’s murder, and a reconciliation with an inadequate mother all combine to make for a book over-stuffed with plot and underdeveloped in all other ways. The last 5-10% of the book is clearly set-up for the sequel and ultimately, it’s hard for me to remember being happier a book was over!
Even nearer the beginning of her career, you can tell that Kleypas has a gift for description and creativity… but there are very few ways in which this novel is satisfying, and I would recommend almost anything else by Kleypas as being an enjoyable (and less painful) read.
Other Things to Know:
Lucas’s daughter Emma is featured in the sequel Prince of My Dreams which, though far, far better, is still a not recommended read.
Comparisons to Other Authors:
Lisa Kleypas is a best-selling author, and though she has focused more recently on modern romance, she is one of the queens of the historical romance genre. Compared to Stephanie Laurens, Kleypas tends to have more individualized characters and a better supporting cast, but less sensual/erotic love scenes. She’s also great at exploring a particular topic or setting – some of her books happen in gambling clubs, others in the theatre, some feature bow street runners and others have protagonists who are deeply aware of social/political issues, helping to really establish you in the setting/time period in a way that not all historical romance authors can. She’s less funny and her characters and scenarios are less light-hearted than Julia Quinn’s, but she her characters tend to have a greater degree of physical attraction/sensuality compared to Quinn’s.