2.5 out of 5 stars
Cut to the Chase (contains spoilers):
In a word: disappointing. Though there was a lot of promise in both the premise and our main characters, and despite the fact that the writing is clear and quite strong in places, I was disappointed in this book. The starting premise behind our love story, that Melisande has always loved Jasper from afar… isn’t ever well-explained (she saw him being kind once, which could have been believable as a start, but doesn’t really sustain the idea of a years of secret love, watching from afar as he gets engaged, etc). Other interesting points — such as the fact that Melisande is not only not a virgin, but actually fairly experience, the fact that Jasper is obsessed with fighting the traitor — are all either afterthoughts or overwhelming to the main romance. The love between them never fully develops or feels genuine, which detracts greatly from its ability to satisfy as a romance novel, despite the good writing.
Lord Vale is jilted by his fiancee, on the morning of his wedding. He’s not particularly heartbroken, so much as disappointed by all the wasted time and effort of going through a proper courtship. Just as he’s consoling himself (and philosophizing) he’s approached by Melisande Fleming, who offers to marry him, help him produce an heir, etc.
As I said in the beginning, we’re told that Melisande has always loved him and watched him from the shadows… the problem is that this so-called love feels very much like infatuation. In all the years she watched him court other women, etc, she didn’t really get to know him, or admire him for anything beyond the one kind act she saw him perform (comforting a fellow, former soldier). It feels as though her love for him is really a girlish infatuation that doesn’t necessarily have a solid basis.
Meanwhile Jasper, while charming, is obsessed with finding the traitor he believes is responsible for the massacre/loss/eventual capture from the battle of Spinner’s Falls. He’s also convinced that his prim and proper wife might be shielded from his baser passions (he assumes she’s a virgin, their one, quick interlude on their wedding night does little to disillusion him, and really he seems pretty dense for the majority of their initial interactions).
There’s some stuff that could have been interesting in the I-don’t-deserve-him/I-don’t-deserve-her vein, but a lot of it just felt off in terms of pacing. There’s so much time and attention devoted to the traitor side plot (which felt obvious in terms of “who” the traitor was) that the romance feels ancillary. More than that, while I have no problem accepting heroines who aren’t virgins (it’s becoming increasingly common) it is very hard to imagine a man of that time, and a woman of that time, treating the knowledge that not only is she experience (major spoilers ahead) she’s fairly experienced, and also miscarried a child… so quickly and cavalierly. Yes, she eventually shares all her secrets with him, and yes he’s immediately accepting and consoling… and while that’s good, it just feels as though it should have been a little more dramatic (given their stations, the time period, etc).
Overall, I felt that the writing was solid, but the characters were disappointing, and the romance unsatisfying. This could have been so much better…
Comparison to Other Authors:
This is only my second book by Hoyt. I actually loved Duke of Darkness, but this one I found disappointing. There’s nice plotting and pacing a la Laurens or Kleypas, but more on the darker, gloomier side… (at least in the two books I’ve read so far).