Sunday, August 22, 2010
Elinor Harriman and her sister, Lydia, have been living in increasingly bad conditions thanks to their sick and gambling mother. Elinor is trying to hold the family together, shouldering more than her share of the burden and almost desperate when she hears her father has died and left her a small bequeath. But before she can journey to find out the details of her inheritance her mother absconds with the last of their money and Elinor is sure that she'll lose it too. She takes off after her to the Viscount Rohan's estate knowing that it's playing host to an orgiastic affair. Plain, and poor, she's sure that no one will take an interest in her there before she can remove her mother...
Francis, the Comte de Giverney and the exiled Viscount Rohan, is probably best known as the "King of Hell" for his hedonistic, orgiastic parties as part of the Heavenly Host. He's jaded and makes no excuses for himself or his excesses. He's cynical, believing in the good of no one - least of all him. And he's bored. Even the exquisite women laid out before him can't break the ennui...until a young woman dressed in rags enters and refuses to be intimidated by him.
To Elinor's utter dismay she finds herself in the sight of the 'King of Hell' himself, who agrees to help remove her mother as long she doesn't leave until later. Francis finds himself completely fascinated by this young woman who's mind is as interesting as her body. Can they build something with the chaos swirling around them? Will their history and enemies be able to tear them apart?
Having never read Anne Stuart before I had no idea what to expect when I went into this book. Right away I was surprised by the unusual (to me) setting of 1765 Paris - home of the English émigrés. Firmly set in the Georgian time period of powdered wigs, jeweled heeled shoes for men and hooped skirts for women. I don't think I've ever read another book in this particular part of the Georgian period so there were a lot of things that were fresh and new to me - and it seemed realistic, though I don't know enough of the time period to be sure if it was.
Francis is an interesting character, to be sure. He is absolutely unapologetic in his lifestyle, living for his pleasures and desires. On the surface he appears to be just another dark hero, but there's also a history to him that gives him an interesting depth.
Elinor I absolutely adored. She was strong and determined to keep her family safe and cared for. By any means necessary. She continuously puts herself in front of them, not wasting time on thought of the cost to herself. I loved how she didn't back down and her replies to Francis' goading quite often made me chuckle.
I have to say that I read the story of Francis and Elinor enjoying their slow descent into love. Francis was, of course, determined to not believe it was anything more than a temporary fascination, insisting that she was a passing fancy that he would soon, as he always did, grow bored of. Elinor believed him to be interested in only her beautiful sister (whom he didn't look twice at with interest). She didn't trust him, and worried about getting further into his debt. They circled each other, neither wanting to give a single inch. The dialogue between them fueled Francis' continued fascination - and mine. I loved how, as they gradually learned more about each other, you could see the affection and care grow between them.
I admit there were a few things that surprised me. Mentions of Jacobites, Bonnie Prince Charles, the Battle of Culloden and an important secondary character suffering from the degeneration of syphilis.
There's also a secondary minor love story for Lydia that's sweet and I was definitely hoping to see them conquer their obstacles.
What didn't work for me was mostly the villain. He was a cardboard character showing up and disappearing at will. While he was engineering some major issues within the story, he wouldn't be mentioned for pages at a time. And in the end it seemed more of a contrivance than any real threat. However it was such a minor part of the story it's not a big deal. There are also a few emotional turns that seemed a little extreme to me, but again nothing that took me out of the story, or was completely wrong.
Ruthless kept me greatly entertained with its dark, gothic setting and tortured, passionate characters. You can't help but root for them, even when they don't know what they need themselves. Ms. Stuart does a wonderful job keeping the characters true to themselves, and letting them fight it out to get where they didn't know they wanted to be.
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