5 out of 5 stars
Cut to the Chase:
This is a great example of animal-attraction/tyrant-male-is-tamed historical romance. I don’t always like the overly-dominant male hero (who, of course, has the tragic childhood backstory), but this was just one of those stories where you really get behind the characters. There’s a point at which a writer really has worked through and past the cliche to get to the heart of characters, and I think Chase really has achieved that here. You’ve got very strong willed protagonists fighting their attraction, a lot of meta-thinking-through from both main characters, and a couple of predictable plot twists, all wrapped in totally believable backstories, side characters, and historical details (oh, and lots of Italian…)
Dain is a Marquess who’s been abandoned by his mother (she leaves him to go with her lover and then dies within the first few pages) and completely neglected by his father (who thinks he’s a heathen and packs him off to Eton for being a monstrosity). He’s one of the few historical romance heroes I’ve read of who’s actually described as being ugly (he thinks he’s hideous, and many seem to agree, though of course, our heroine sees past that).
Jess, our heroine, has a forward-thinking grandmother (who herself has had two husbands and a string of past lovers), and has been brought up knowing she’s an intelligent beauty — she has merely chosen not to marry. She’s on the brink of opening up an antiques shop when she stops at Paris to check in on her littler brother (a bit of a nitwit) who has taken up with Dain, and all of Dain’s expensive habits (prostitutes, gambling, drinking).
Their initial meeting is kind of angsty/overly hormonal teenager-y where they’re attracted and also repulsed by one another (she hates that he’s destroying her brother by being a bad influence, and he just is against well bred women who come with more strings than the prostitutes that are his norm). After that kind of meh start though, the book really takes off, and their journey towards a happy ending is quite entertaining (and this is a true battle of wills: they compare one another to pernicious parasites, she actually shoots him in the arm at one point, she plays at being docile and obedient to annoy him, etc).
There’s a nicely fleshed out cast of characters (though I wish we’d seen a little more of the knowing, spirited grandmother), and once it got going, I had trouble putting it down. Definitely a great example of the genre, especially if you like the beauty and the beast/opposites attract (which I normally hate!) storyline.
Comparisons to Other Authors:
So there are several different tropes here that I think are especially well carried out, which makes sense since this was a RITA winner. The only other tragic childhood backstory I’ve liked as much is probably Julia Quinn’s The Duke and I, and the only example of a better father-illegitimate-child arc is probably Sherry Thomas’s Tempting the Bride. So many elements just come together so well in this novel; her love of antiquities and even his taste are artfully woven in throughout, you’ve got villains who aren’t pure villains (which I always love, and which I think Lisa Kleypas does a similarly good job of).