on July 16, 2020
Genres: Historical Romance
Format: Kindle or ebook
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Also by this author: A Match for Marcus Cynster, By Winter's Light, The Lady's Command, The Greatest Challenge of Them All, A Conquest Impossible to Resist
The scion of a noble house brought low by a storm and the lady who nurses him back to health strive to unravel a web of deception that threatens her family and forces them to fight for what they hold most dear—family, each other, and love.
Lord Godfrey Cavanaugh has no thoughts of marrying as he drives into North Yorkshire on a plum commission for the National Gallery to authenticate a Renaissance painting the gallery wishes to purchase. Then a snow storm sweeps in, and Godfrey barely manages to haul himself, his groom, and his horses to their destination.
Elinor Hinckley, eldest daughter of Hinckley Hall, stalwart defender of the family, right arm to her invalid father, and established spinster, knows full well how much her family has riding on the sale of the painting and throws herself into nursing the initially delirious gentleman who holds her family's future in his hands.
But Godfrey proves to be a far from easy patient. Through Ellie's and her siblings' efforts to keep him entertained and abed, Godfrey grows to know the family, appreciating and, ultimately, being drawn into family life of a sort he's never known.
Eventually, to everyone's relief, he recovers sufficiently to assess the painting—only to discover that nothing, but nothing, is as it seems.
Someone has plans, someone other than the Hinckleys, but who is pulling the strings is a mystery that Godfrey and Ellie find near-impossible to solve. Every suspect proves to have perfectly understandable, albeit hidden reasons for their behavior, and Godfrey and Ellie remain baffled.
Until the villain, panicked by their inquiries, strikes—directly at them—and forces them both to acknowledge what has grown to be the most important thing in their lives. Both are natural defenders of the weak, and neither will give up. Together, they battle to save not just themselves, not just her family, but their futures. Hers, his, and theirs.
A bland romance
I can’t pinpoint exactly why, but to me, Laurens’s recent books lack the fire, intensity, and excitement of her earlier Cynster, Bastion Club, and Black Cobra books. It’s not that there’s anything really wrong with the books (nothing major, anyway.) They just feel… bland. And this book is particularly so. Neither the romance nor the surrounding events evoke much tension or suspense, even in moments of danger. The books in the authors’ earlier series compelled me to keep reading. This one, not so much.
Godfrey Cavanaugh and Ellie Hinkley are pleasant enough as people; I’m sure I would enjoy meeting them in real life. But neither character commands the reader’s attention in the way that Devil and Honoria (Devil’s Bride) or Gabriel and Althea (A Secret Love) do. Their attraction feels formulaic. Ellie’s decision to pursue the attraction between them seems sudden, arbitrary and out of character, although once she makes that choice, her words and actions are consistent with her honest and forthright personality. The mystery in this book… isn’t all that much of a mystery, and except for one scene, there’s no real sense of danger or threat — usually a hallmark of Laurens’s romances. I liked the book, but in the mild way that one likes vanilla ice cream or a plain sugar cookie.
On another note, there is an error that has driven me nuts in a few of Laurens’s most recent books: her misunderstanding of the title “Lord” (or “Lady”.) As a courtesy title, it is customarily granted to the children of dukes and marquesses, of which Godfrey is one. He would correctly be styled “Lord Godfrey Cavanaugh” — but never “Lord Cavanaugh.” Cavanaugh is the family name, not a title; he should therefore properly be addressed as “Lord Godfrey.” To be fair, Laurens mostly gets that right in this book (though she consistently gets it wrong in The Pursuits of Lord Kit Cavanaugh.) But at one point in this book, Godfrey says to Ellie,
“I want to put my ring on your finger and change your name to Lady Godfrey Cavanaugh.” He paused, then amended, “Eleanor, Lady Cavanaugh.”
Godfrey’s wife would be Lady Godfrey Cavanaugh; she should be addressed as Lady Godfrey, not Lady Cavanaugh. She would certainly not be “Eleanor, Lady Cavanaugh.” Anyone who has been writing British historical romance as long as Stephanie Laurens has should not be making such a fundamental mistake. (I hereby refer her to the Wikipedia page on courtesy titles.) It’s this kind of sloppy research and writing that throws me completely out of the story and makes it difficult for me to lose myself in it again.
(As a side note, why does Godfrey, that connoisseur of art, never mention the artist Gerrard Debbington, to whom he is distantly connected through his eldest brother’s marriage to Mary Cynster? It seems inevitable that the Cynsters would have introduced a young man with Godfrey’s interest in art to their very own artistic lion. And indeed, Godfrey does mention the Cynster connection in another context… but not Gerrard. It struck me as distinctly odd.)
Honestly, if you are new to Stephanie Laurens, start with her first Cynster series, beginning with Devil’s Bride. As for me, I have stuck with the Cavanaugh and Cynster next-gen series out of nostalgia, but I don’t know how much longer I will keep going. I really miss the compelling intensity of her earlier and better books. Thank goodness for rereading!