on July 13, 2017
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Also in this series: By Winter's Light, A Conquest Impossible to Resist
A nobleman devoted to defending queen and country and a noblewoman wild enough to match his every step race to disrupt the plans of a malignant intelligence intent on shaking England to its very foundations.
Lord Drake Varisey, Marquess of Winchelsea, eldest son and heir of the Duke of Wolverstone, must foil a plot that threatens to shake the foundations of the realm, but the very last lady—nay, noblewoman—he needs assisting him is Lady Louisa Cynster, known throughout the ton as Lady Wild.
For the past nine years, Louisa has suspected that Drake might well be the ideal husband for her, even though he’s assiduous in avoiding her. But she’s now twenty-seven and enough is enough. She believes propinquity will reveal exactly what it is that lies between them, and what better opportunity to work closely with Drake than this latest mission with which he patently needs her help?
Unable to deny Louisa’s abilities or the value of her assistance and powerless to curb her willfulness, Drake is forced to grit his teeth and acquiesce to her sticking by his side if only to ensure her safety. But all too soon, his true feelings for her surface sufficiently for her, perspicacious as she is, to see through his denials, which she then interprets as a challenge.
Even while they gather information, tease out clues, increasingly desperately search for the missing gunpowder, and doggedly pursue the killer responsible for an ever-escalating tally of dead men, thrown together through the hours, he and she learn to trust and appreciate each other. And fed by constant exposure—and blatantly encouraged by her—their desires and hungers swell and grow…
As the barriers between them crumble, the attraction he has for so long restrained burgeons and balloons, until goaded by her near-death, it erupts, and he seizes her—only to be seized in return.
Linked irrevocably and with their wills melded and merged by passion’s fire, with time running out and the evil mastermind’s deadline looming, together, they focus their considerable talents and make one last push to learn the critical truths—to find the gunpowder and unmask the villain behind this far-reaching plot.
Only to discover that they have significantly less time than they’d thought, that the villain’s target is even more crucially fundamental to the realm than they’d imagined, and it’s going to take all that Drake is—as well as all that Louisa as Lady Wild can bring to bear—to defuse the threat, capture the villain, and make all safe and right again.
As they race to the ultimate confrontation, the future of all England rests on their shoulders.
Third volume in a trilogy. A historical romance with gothic overtones layered over an intrigue. A full length novel of 129,000 words.
There’s a streak of mystery or romantic suspense in most of Stephanie Laurens’s books, but in The Greatest Challenge of Them All, the mystery significantly outweighs the romance.
That mystery begins in The Lady By His Side and continues in An Irresistible Alliance; it would be pointless to begin this book without first reading the previous two.
The heroes and heroines of the first two books continue to play important roles, but the focus this time is on Louisa—”Lady Wild”—the daughter of Devil and Honoria Cynster (Devil’s Bride), and Drake Varisey, son and heir (in more ways than one) of Royce and Minerva Varisey (Mastered By Love.) Royce, now the Duke of Wolverstone but at one time the mysterious “Dalziel” of the Bastion Club series, has retired from his service as Britain’s secretive (and secret) spymaster and intelligence chief; as his eldest son and heir, Drake has taken on that role. And it’s in that capacity that Drake sets in motion an investigation that spans three books and ultimately leads from a mere hint of trouble to a plot that threatens the stability of the realm. It’s a convoluted and occasionally over-elaborate plot, but it did keep my interest despite a tendency to get bogged down in detail and minutiae. Some of the more plodding, less fruitful inquiries could have been detailed more quickly by having the characters report on them after the fact, rather than following the characters through every minute of the investigation. However, the increasing suspense as the body count mounts and the nature of the threat becomes more apparent was more than enough to keep me turning the pages.
It’s a good thing the mystery offers suspense and tension, because there’s not much in the romance. Drake and Louisa’s relationship seems almost a given from early on despite Drake’s trenchant resistance. Focused, intelligent, and highly self-disciplined, Drake resists not because he’s not attracted to Louisa—he clearly is, and she knows it—but because, in true Laurens alpha-male style, he shies away from love in general, reluctant to submit to the power he believes Louisa (or love) would have over him. But Louisa is both Honoria’s and Devil’s daughter: confident, self-assured, both socially skilled and socially powerful, passionate, and very much inclined to go after what she wants. And what she wants, both physically and emotionally, is Drake. She may be the strongest heroine Laurens has written so far, and that’s saying something; Laurens invariably matches her heroes with equally strong women.
The problem—the reason there’s not much romantic tension—is that neither Drake nor Louisa has any real flaws, or experiences much emotional vulnerability. What tension does exist between them comes from Drake’s resistance and efforts to tolerate Louisa’s presence in his investigation without allowing himself to act on his attraction to her, and Louisa’s attempts to break through his control. As for her involvement in the investigation, she simply doesn’t take no for an answer. Drake’s eventual capitulation is obvious from the beginning, and comes far earlier than I expected. While that does allow the plot to focus on the mystery, it was a little disappointing on the romantic front, especially in comparison to both their parents’ stories.
I enjoyed the inclusion of so many characters from previous books, either as important secondary characters (Sebastian and Antonia, Michael and Cleo) and in smaller roles. However, one thing didn’t ring quite true for me: Devil’s and Royce’s willingness to step back and let their children handle the crisis. It’s out of character, and they’re only in their 60s, after all. Two such powerful dukes of that age, in that time, wouldn’t be likely to hand over the reins so easily; they’re too protective, too used to taking charge, and too loyal to the crown not to “do their bit” to protect the peace and safety of the realm despite their age.
Despite the reservations I voiced above, I did enjoy the book and the trilogy, and not just for old time’s sake. But this is not a trilogy I would recommend to anyone unfamiliar with Laurens’ oevre. Start with the six original Cynsters novels and go on from there.
A note about the publisher: In the past, Stephanie Laurens published under Avon. She set up her own publishing company some years ago, Savdek Management Pty. Ltd., which published several books through or in cooperation with Harlequin, including the first three books in the Cynsters Next Generation series. This trilogy, which continues that series, has been published entirely by Savdek. While technically the book is self-published, it’s definitely on the professional end of that spectrum. Until I checked, I didn’t realize it wasn’t published under Harlequin’s aegis.