Sunday, July 5, 2009
Set during the chaotic beginnings of Napoleon's rule, this saga tells the story of Gabriel St. Croix, a street survivor searching for a place to belong. Abandoned as a child and raised in a brothel, he has never known friendship or affection. Hiding physical and emotional scars behind an icy facade, his only relationship is with a young boy he has spent the last five years protecting from the brutal reality of their environment. But all that is about to change. The boy's family has found him, and they are coming to take him home.
Sarah Munroe blames herself for her brother's disappearance. When he's located, safe and unharmed despite where he has been living, Sarah vows to help the man who rescued and protected him in any way she can. With loving patience she helps Gabriel face his demons and teaches him to trust in friendship and love. But when the past catches up with him, Gabriel must face it on his own. Becoming a mercenary, pirate, and professional gambler, he travels to London, France, and the Barbary Coast in a desperate attempt to find Sarah again. On the way, however, he will discover the most dangerous journey and the greatest gamble of all is within the darkest reaches of his own heart.
At last I've read this book I've heard so much about! And alas, it didn't thrill me as much as it has everyone else! Aargh! Another one of these anguished and tormented heroes that must fight their inner demons to make their way in the world and find true love in the arms of a woman too good to be true.
Gabriel St. Croix is the ertswhile hero of this adventure romance. Set in England for the most part, it begins in Paris where Gabriel was raised, tutored and trained in every imaginable way to be the most desired male whore at Madame Etienne's. He becomes the most coveted draw at the brothel, but why does he stay there once he is a grown man? Surely he can find some way to escape this life of degradation and near slavery? The answer is most likely because he is protecting an innocent young boy that was kidnapped from his aristocratic family in England and placed in the brothel. Jamie, the young boy, is a handsome youth, Gabriel knows only too well, having endured it himself, what will become of poor Jamie if he is not there to protect him. He fights off predators and keeps the young boy safe and untouched. Despite his dissolute lifestyle and what appears to be a severe lack of morals, Gabriel has an honorable and noble bent to him, he is basically a good man. Still, in the beginning, he is a major enigma to everyone. A major good looking, seductive enigma!
Eventually the day comes that Jamie is found and returned to his grateful family. He has become attached to Gabriel and refuses to leave the brothel without his guardian angel, Gabriel. Faced with no other alternative, Jamie's older brother and sister invite him to come live with them for a year in Cornwall, England and be a companion to Jamie and help him to re-adjust to his new surroundings. An offer too good to turn down, with the added bonus of 10,000 pounds Sterling added to the pot, Gabriel agrees and goes to England with them. It is not only an adjustment for Jamie, who gets along swimmingly in his new surroundings, Gabriel is the one that's having the harder time. Plus, he is falling for Jamie's older sister, Lady Sarah Munroe, an unorthodox young widow that likes to wear britches instead of dresses and has a few skeletons in her closet that keeps her out of London's most popular salons. Sarah is intrigued with Gabriel and strives to make him feel at home in Cornwall. They develop a tenuous friendship which gradually leads to love - a heart pounding, all consuming, "love you forever - no matter what" kind of love.
Now, first of all, I admit, it was hard for me to adjust to a male prostitute as the book's hero. I'm used to dukes and viscounts or Scottish highlanders, all noble, courageous and terribly honorable and all that. A catamite? A sodomite? The best male whore in the best little whorehouse of Paris? Hmmm... Different, I'll give it that and a tall order. But, eventually I was won over by Gabriel. He transforms himself into a man of honor with the steely countenance and swordsmanship to best the greatest of foes. Yet, inside he still suffers the pain and vulnerablities due to his unfortunate childhood that he'll never be able to fully put behind him and forget.
As he and Sarah become friends, he tells her brutally of his past life. Sarah, the most understanding woman that ever lived, accepts him unconditionally with all his flaws and background. She soothes his nightmares and takes him into her arms to comfort him. They begin a clandestine nightime friendship at first, watching the night's stars and I found it hard to believe that he would sleep in her bedroom every night and her brothers were unaware of it! No one knew and told her older brother, the master of the house? I found Sarah a bit naive in allowing this, and soon Gabriel was sleeping in her bed and still she had no idea that he was mad for her and was dying to make love to her? From friendship they start to kiss a lot, but still no sex. Finally, when her brother goes away, they become lovers. Their love for one another develops naturally, first as friends then as lovers, it's almost too easy and I can't say it was overly steamy. It was more interesting before they fell in love. Once they declared themselves to each other, it all became rather sappy and boring. But, then her older brother returns and puts a kabosh on the whole thing and after secretly marrying, Gabriel leaves to become a privateer and make his fortune and return in six months to marry Sarah properly and honorably in a pretty dress with her family's acceptance.
Well, of course, things don't go as planned.
Gabriel is captured by a slaver ship in Turkey and must somehow find his way back to Europe. But, after killing his old nemesis and then becoming a mercenary with his new found friend, Jacques and then pretending to be a bisexual nobleman in Paris and London it takes him over three years to see Sarah again. I hate it when the hero gets the bright idea that he can never face his beloved again for fear that she will reject him upon learning that he has murdered someone or commited some unforgivable (in his eyes) sin. Gabe, Gabe, poor misguided Gabe. You should have told Jacques everything. Jacques would have straightened you out. But, no, Gabriel kept this idea all to himself and refused to return to Sarah! What a blockhead! Sarah! The one who forgave you all your sins of being a male prostitute in Paris for years? The one who said she'd love you and wait forever? You think she's going to mind if you killed your archenemy who tortured you for years as a child?
So, I was a bit put out by this part, but it added some much needed angst to the storyline which I found to be, for the most part, too pat and perfect. Everything (to a certain extent) would always go just as planned, except for getting washed overboard and everyone thinking he was dead, of course. I noticed that whenever Gabriel would come up with a plan of how he'd escape from somewhere - voila! It would work perfectly! No problems! In addition, I found a lack of depth in some of the storylines, particulary towards the end, or big gaping question marks - what was the backstory with Sarah's older brother, Ross? What did Jamie think of Gabriel when he learned that he was alive all along and didn't tell them? And just what in the world ever happened to Jamie, did he turn out okay? What was Davey's real story - and was he really in love with Sarah or not? How did Sarah hear about Gabriel being back in London? Who told her? How did she find out and react to the revelation?
I found the first part of the book to be rich in details, centering on the Jamie dilemma and then the development of the relationship between Gabriel and Sarah. Then it turns into this pirate like adventure story in the middle in which the two of them are apart and finally the last part has a brief near fling for Sarah and intro to a ne'er do well Irish nobleman (I found it hard to believe that her older brother would actually try to fix her up with this womanizer!) The near fling leads to nothing, it's mostly just a plot device, a way for Gabriel to overhear that Sarah is in London from the Irish lord. Then suddenly, Sarah and Gabriel come face to face again in London! The last part had almost none of the same lavish detail as the first part. Everything was glossed over quickly, almost as if the author ran out of steam and just wanted to get the book over with. Her little brother Jamie grows up and we have no clue what he's like. Is he completely recovered from his time in the brothel?
A reunion, some flowery language and poetry, three days of non-stop sex and the story was all wrapped up. I did like the surprise in their reunion that brought them full circle which was a nice touch.
Still, it was a good story if you like tortured heroes who are less than perfect (not my own personal favorite). I did actually like this book, despite my tongue in cheek review, but let's hope the author's next book is a bit more even with details and composition. I recommend it for the different romantic storyline and the research that went into it as indicated in the author's notes at the end. Still, it's an unconventional romance in the beginning and not overly steamy either, though there are a few memorable moments in that department.