2.5 out of 5 stars
Cut to the Chase:
If you generally like Stephanie Laurens, this will be an enjoyable read. It won’t be particularly memorable, but it will be reminiscent of her stronger Cynster novels in terms of both sensuality (lots of it), the main conflict (they just can’t admit to love/give into something that could be dangerous), as well as the secondary conflict (a mystery in the form of a serial killer). The things that make this interesting also make it a slower read than usual. There’s a little too much of her tried and true formula, and the tension between the main characters feels a) less interesting (they are more or less together by the end of the first half, they just haven’t really admitted they truly, truly love one another) and b) less unique (there’s so much referencing back to other Cynsters that you’re constantly reminded that these two are a bit derivative). Still, it was fine, not at all memorable, far from her worst, and also… far from her best.
The starting conceit was actually a fun one. Henrietta Cynster is known as the “MatchBREAKer” of the ton. She’s the woman of independent means who helps other women find out whether the man they’re being pursued by might have ulterior motives (they’re a fortune-hunter, etc). She inadvertently breaks the practical-perfectly-fine but unromantic match between our hero (James) and his initial-intended. When she realizes how desperately he needs this match (to protect his inheritence and the people who depend upon him), she agrees to help him.
They’re attracted to one another immediately, and there’s really nothing keeping them apart. There are a few moments of does-she-like-me? Is-he-interested? And a couple small misunderstandings where they’re not sure of one another’s attractions, but then that gets resolved, fairly quickly, and there’s still a couple hundred pages to go!
Enter murder, mayhem, and a serial killer.
Which is fine… and would have been fine… except that the main characters become just shadows of other Cynster characters. James is fiercely protective and worried, Henrietta is… well, less realized of a character than you’d expect given that she’s proudly lived up to the matchbreaker reputation up until now. we devolve into plots against Henrietta, the involvement of Cynster family members (nice reunions etc) but all of this just serves to highlight the fact that the main two leads aren’t interesting enough (either their romance or their mystery) to keep us interested and invested.
I finished it, and it wasn’t really a chore… but it wasn’t as enjoyable as MOST of her other books. I still highly recommend A Secret Love and Scandal’s Bride from the original Cynster series, or, if you want a less sensual/less-sex Laurens, I liked her earlier works Tangled Reins and Four in Hand.
Comparison to Other Authors:
Laurens is a very prolific writer, and if you like passionate historical romances that are well-written and articulate, especially if you like to have a dash of mystery along with your romance, Laurens is a top contender by any standard. But she’s so prolific that it sometimes feels as though she’s not necessarily taking the time to edit herself and really individuate her protagonists. She’s definitely more sensual and writes more intense lovemaking scenes than Lisa Kleypas (though Kleypas has better character development and layering) or Samantha James. She also writes longer love scenes than Kat Martin, and tends to spend a little more time on the ending feelings and consequences than Martin does.
The best direct comparisons I can think of are probably Amanda Quick (which is the pen name for Jayne Ann Krentz), who tends to be also quick prolific with slightly domineering male leads, and Virginia Henley. Of the three, I would probably pick Laurens – she’s got less sex than Virginia Henley (it’s hard for me to think of an author that has more scenes devoted to intercourse than Henley), but her characters are far more developed relative to Henley, and the plot proceeds at a less break-neck pace. Depending on the book, it’s a toss-up between Quick and Laurens for me, but overall, I think I’ve read and reread more Laurens than Quick.