Saturday, January 10, 2009
THERE COMES A TIME IN A LADY'S LIFE...
Widowed Anna Wren is having a wretched day. After an arrogant male on horseback nearly squashes her, she arrives home to learn that she is in dire financial straits. What is a gently bred lady to do?
WHEN SHE MUST DO THE UNTHINKABLE...
The Earl of Swartingham is in a quandary. Having frightened off two secretaries, Edward de Raaf needs someone who can withstand his bad temper and boorish behavior. Dammit! How hard can it be to find a decent secretary?
AND FIND EMPLOYMENT.
When Anna becomes the earl's secretary, both their problems are solved. Then she discovers he plans to visit the most notorious brothel in London for his "manly" needs. Well! Anna sees red--and decides to assuage her "womanly" desires... with the earl as her unknowing lover.
This is one of those romances that I've been hearing about for the past year that everyone is saying "It's great - you have to read it!" So, I finally did. The first in a trilogy, I must admit it was pretty good, but not the greatest romance I've ever read.
I had some problems with the plotline at first, and was taken aback at the idea that our hero is "ugly." Eep! Though, what appears to be ugly at first, or prickly or pockarked or mousy can turn into a blooming, beautiful rose or a handsome hero at the ready, bent on fighting a duel for his lady's honor. The Raven Prince is a parable on this theme aka Beauty and the Beast.
Set in 1760, Anna Wren is our widowed heroine who is a lady who must seek a form of genteel employment. She finds a job as secretary to the forbidding Earl of Swartingham. They initially meet when he falls off his horse (shades of Jane Eyre). He is gruff and unattractive at first (again, like Edward Rochester - even their names are the same!) He is dark haired and pockmarked, the only survivor of smallpox that killed off his entire family. He is the last in the line and must have an heir for it to continue. Anna, who had been married for four years, never conceived. It is presumed she is barren.
Despite his brash exterior the two of them get along and are attracted to one another. Theirs is an unusual courtship. Anna takes advantage of the unusual and provident opportunity to be able to pose as a whore in a high class brothel in London to bed him. And so she does! He never suspects who she really is for two erotic, sexually stimulating nights. Okay, it's implausible, but different, I'll give it that! Still, I did have a small problem with the deception and use of a brothel in the plotline, but that's just the romance prude in me. I instinctively have issues with heroines who lie about who they are, but often I overcome that as I get into the book, which I did in this one too.
Anna experiences the ultimate bliss in his arms, but faces the dilemma that she cannot simply sleep with him, as a man (presumably) uses a whore. She cannot enjoy the physical act unemotionally as a man would, and finds she wants more - yet she can't have more, since Edward doesn't know it's her and he's engaged to someone else! Plus, no lady can admit to what she did, much less have an affair with her employer! She's stuck. (I really wondered how the author was going to fix this.) Then, to make matters worse, Anna is seen by an unsavory cad at "Aphrodite's Grotto" (the name of the brothel) and is later blackmailed for it (that's where the angst in the story comes in). Edward, on the other hand, finds those two nights with his mysterious masked lady the most sexually fulfilling moments of his life. Yet, he has trouble dealing with the idea that he was with an anonymous whore when he's falling for Anna, his secretary. He feels guilty. What is he to do? And what will happen if and when he finds out that Anna tricked him? It was a joy to read how the two of them resolve this dilemma and become closer in their relationship. The development of the characters is rich and their romantic interludes are hot and sensual with lots of sexual tension in between. We see the two of them bloom and look at each other through different eyes than they did at first. I love romances that show how the two lovers - actually fall in love with one another!
In addition, there's a lot to this book that's fun. The side characters are witty and interesting. Edward's elderly valet, Davis, is a hoot, his steward's waistcoats are diverting and Edward's two friends, Iddesleigh and Harry, are intriguing at the end of the book (the next two books in the trilogy are based on their stories). Anna's mother-in-law is a sweet old lady, there are some whores and courtesans thrown in for good measure, and there is a suitably bitchy antagonist who tries to blackmail Anna in the end, but gets her just desserts instead.
Not only that, I loved the fairy tale of the Raven Prince that begins each chapter. It's a tale that mirrors the romance itself. A story within a story. I found myself as interested in finding out the ending to the fairy tale as much as the ending of the romance between Edward and Anna. I appreciate how the author made Anna's name, Anna Wren, to go so nicely with the theme in the book and to offset "the raven" depicted by Edward.
All in all, this was a thoroughly enjoyable read. It sped by in one day and I'm eager to read the rest of the trilogy. I'm definitely going to be reading Elizabeth Hoyt's books in the future!