Published by self-published on Aug. 18, 2022
Genres: Historical Romance
Format: Kindle or ebook
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Martin Cynster arrives at Carmichael Steelworks set on acquiring the business as the jewel in his industrialist’s crown, only to discover that the lady owner is not at all what he expected.
Miss Sophia Carmichael learned about steelmaking at her father’s knee and, having inherited the major shareholding, sees no reason not to continue exactly as she is—running the steelworks and steadily becoming an expert in steel alloys. When Martin Cynster tracks her down, she has no option but to listen to his offer—until impending disaster on the steelworks floor interrupts.
Consequently, she tries to dismiss Martin, but he’s persistent, and as he has now saved her life, gratitude compels her to hear him out. And day by day, as his understanding of her and the works grows, what he offers grows increasingly tempting, until a merger, both business-wise and personal, is very much on their cards.
But a series of ever-escalating incidents makes it clear someone else has an eye on the steelworks. The quest to learn who and why leads Martin and Sophy into ever greater danger as, layer by layer, they uncover a diabolical scheme that, ultimately, will drain the lifeblood not just from the steelworks but from the city of Sheffield as well.
Pleasant but bland
Ever since Laurens left Avon (or perhaps was dropped? It’s never been made clear), her novels have been OK, but not exceptional. They seem somewhat lackluster, particularly in comparison to her original Cynster series (and of those, particularly the first 8 or 10.) I have continued reading them for old time’s sake, and to revisit well-loved characters. After the last several books, I was almost ready to call it quits, but I can’t seem to let go of the hope that she will return to form, so I bought her latest Cynster Next Generation novel, The Time for Love.
And it was… better than OK, but still not up to her prior standard.
Martin Cynster, youngest son of Vane and Patience (A Rake’s Vow, Cynsters #2) has put off love and marriage for rather a long time in favor of pursuing his business interests. Now in his late 30s, he is in Sheffield, attempting to buy the Carmichael Steelworks. He is unaware that the majority owner, Sophia Carmichael, is a chemical engineer of considerable skill, runing the steelworks and overseeing the development of new alloys herself. (Yes, this is highly unlikely in 1863, but just go with it.)
Martin proves remarkably flexible in his views vis-a-vis a woman’s place—or perhaps it’s not so remarkable, given the plethora of strong-willed, independent woman who have married into or been born into the Cynster family over the years. All of them have found ways to be full partners in their marriages, often despite the protectiveness of their Cynster husbands and/or relatives. At any rate, Martin rapidly reassesses his goal; while he still wants the steelworks, he realizes its worth depends on the woman at the helm… a lady by whom he is instantly captivated. To be honest, I immediately suspected his motives—is it Sophy or the steelworks that he wants most? Thankfully, by the end of the book, it’s clear that Sophy comes first.
But of course, it’s not all smooth sailing. A series of “accidents” has plagued Carmichael Steelworks in recent months, and Martin arrives in time to see one and save Sophy from another. The novel proceeds as a fairly typical Laurens-style mystery-romance, with a range of suspects: a business rival of Martin’s; the heads of such organized crime as exists in Sheffield; a mysterious stranger seen talking with Sophy’s prig of a cousin, Edward; and either or both of Sophy’s cousins (and fellow shareholders.)
Despite the accidents and even a kidnapping, the tension overall felt muted. I’m not sure how much of that was due to the writing and how much to the fact that it’s a romance, so I knew basically where things were headed, but some is undoubtedly the fault of the writing. If Laurens’s earlier books can maintain the tension even on subsequent rereads, while this one struggles to achieve a similar level of tension even on the first reading, it’s got to be something in the writing and/or pacing. The revelation of the villain and the pair’s confrontation with him ultimately fell flat, and (spoiler alert!) I found his apparent about-face in the epilogue completely unbelievable.
That said, Martin and Sophy (particularly Sophy) are likeable enough as characters, and the historical details about Sheffield’s steel industry are interesting (though I can’t vouch for their accuracy, since that’s neither a field nor an era in which I can claim much expertise.) I enjoyed the book while I was reading it, but I can’t say that it will stay with me in any lasting way. Call it the bookish equivalent of a sugar cookie: sweet (although there is one steamy scene), pleasant, but rather bland.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- COYER Upside-Down 2023: Chapter 1
Too bad it’s a bit bland. It sure has a good premise.
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That’s the frustrating thing; I know she can do so much better.
I haven’t read Laurens in years and I think it was because I found the last couple of books I read by her on the meh side.
That pretty much describes her recent output, yes. I wonder if she is a writer who benefitted from good structural editing, and may not be getting it now that she is self-publishing.