Friday, January 1, 2010
The Duke of Jervaulx was brilliant - and dangerous.
Considered dissolute, reckless, and extravagant, he was transparently referred to as the "D of J" in scandal sheets. But sometimes the most womanizing rakehell can be irresistible, and even his most casual attentions fascinated the sheltered Maddy Timms.
Then one fateful day she receives the shocking news - the duke is lost to the world. And Maddy knows it is her destiny to help him and her only chance to find the true man behind the wicked façade.
But she never dreamed her gentle, healing touch would alter his life and her own so completely - and bind them together in need, desire ... and love.
Wow! My first book of the new year, and what a read! Set in early 1820's London, I was bowled over by this historical romance. This is not just your usual fluffy romance, it's a can't put down, carefully crafted, complex and unique love story. I've had this book on my TBR list for a long time ever since I saw it was #6 on the AAR 100 best romances list. I'd heard it was good, but had no idea what the plot was actually about. The above blurb doesn't come close to doing it justice. This is a keeper!
It's the story of two of the most unlikely people coming together, one a scapgrace ne'er do well duke who also happens to be a mathematical genius. The other is an innocent Quaker spinster, Archemedia (Maddy) Timms whose father is a mathematical genius as well. The Duke of Jervaulx, otherwise known as Christian, and Maddy's father are colleagues working on a mathematical paper together. Her father is blind, so Maddy must help him with his correspondence with the duke. She disapproves of the duke, reading about him in the scandal sheets. He represents to her all that is wicked and sinful, the complete opposite of how an upstanding and gentle Quaker man should comport himself. Once she actually meets him at the final presentation of the paper to the Mathematical Society and has dinner with him afterwards she is struck by how civilized and different he appears to be - despite his piratical good looks and rakish smile. He is worldly, urbane, gentlemanly and offers her father a chair for a new school he setting up in London.
But, fate steps in when the duke suffers a stroke the next day after fighting in a duel. Not understanding what is wrong with him, he is violent and confused and is sent to an exclusive insane asylum in the country - run by Maddy's uncle. Months later, Maddy and her father go to live there and Maddy realizes that the duke is there. Not having heard what exactly had happened to the duke, they believed him dead. Soon, Maddy becomes his attendant at the asylum and works wonders with him. She soon realizes he is not mad, his main problem is that he cannot talk and has trouble understanding others speech. She works with him and slowly he begins to regain his composure around her. But, it's a long, slow process and this is not his only problem. His family has been working on having him declared incapable of managing his own affairs and money which would have him lose all his estates and funds. It's up to Maddy to help him get ready for the hearing that will determine if he is fit enough to take care of his own finances and affairs. He doesn't exactly pass the test, and from there he must wed or be put back in the asylum for good. Only a wife can stop it.
As you can imagine, there is a lot more to this story. There is a depth and complexity in the storyline involving the duke and his desire to be understood and not locked away as a madman for life. His driving desire is not to lose everything. He's on the precipice of a cliff. He must be able to regain his life back - and have Maddy, who has become his lifeline. What started out as a simple seduction on his part has turned into a true devotion to one another, though it's not easy for either of them to admit it. She tries to resist him and the attraction she feels towards him, but it becomes harder and harder to do so when she is often in such close proximity to him as his nurse. Plus, she has grown to care deeply for him and wants to see that he is not cheated out of his right as the Duke of Jervaulx. But, how can they mix together socially, much less marry? A major part of this story is the fact that Maddy is pulled in two - her love and desire for Christian and her devotion to her religion as a Quaker. By marrying him, she would have to give that all up, it's all she has known all her life. As is her custom, she only wears somber colors in gray and black, simple clothing as is the Quaker way, not exactly the style of a grand duchess. We are in Maddy's head often, and understand her doubts and concerns about Christian. She is torn. I admired and felt terrible for Maddy. She wants to help him, she feels she has had some kind of Calling from God to come to his aide and she does not want to see him locked up for life. She knows better than anyone else that he is recovering and he is not the lunatic his family wants the judges to believe he is. What should she do? It's against her faith to tell an untruth or spend money when one doesn't have it, yet there is so much about the Duke's life that would force her to cast aside her beliefs. How can she rationalize it? Is love stronger than one's religion? What is considered moral and immoral when faced with these impossible decisions?
Another major part of the book is that Christian can barely talk and we sympathize with his frustration, reading first hand what it's like for him. It's humbling to see him first as he was as this great duke with the world at his feet who is then cut down in an instant and locked away like an animal who cannot speak. There is an analogy at one point when Christian, who is much better at this point, is with a baby that is crying and he realizes he and the baby are alike. He knows how she must feel. All she can do is cry and tremble when she us unhappy and frustrated, she can't speak her thoughts - she is frustrated, so she cries! He has been there, he knows how she feels! I thought this was a moving point in the story and I really grew to love Christian and I badly wanted him to succeed in his fight for his rights and happiness.
At first, some parts of the book took some getting used to. To show Christian's affliction, often his thoughts all run together in print. We're often in Christian's head and can read his thoughts and how jumbled they are and how he has trouble understanding words, (though he has no trouble understanding and reading his mathematics equations and formulas.) In his mind, he thinks of Maddy as Maddygirl, or often when he's annoyed with her as thee thou prim or something to that effect. In addition, with her Quaker beliefs, Maddy speaks plainly, in thee's and thou's, I got used to this Quaker-speak eventually too. Aside from that, there are loads of exciting and entertaining parts of the book, particularly when they're on the run, escaping his family. One of my favorite parts was how Christian was able to come up with some cash so they'd have some money to run away. Not only does the sensuality heat up between Maddy and Christian, suspense reigns supreme in the second half of the book with the lead up to Christian getting his affairs back in order and then a grand ball planned with the King in attendance and culminating at the Quaker meeting house at the end. I couldn't put it down until I was finished!
I'm trying my best not to give up any spoilers here, but I'll just say that I had tears streaming down my cheeks towards the end of the book. A lot of ups and down occur between Christian and Maddy, it's not easy for them. As the reader, you are drawn into their story, you're rooting for them, hoping for success and gnashing your teeth at each set back. It was a profound and touching ending, particularly taking into account how far Christian had come from his early days in the asylum to begging Maddy to stay with him and be his duchess. I can at least assure you that the book ends happily, but there are plenty of bumps in the road getting there. You won't be sorry! Touching, poignant, thoughtful and sexy, this book is a must read - one of the best romances I've read - ever!