Yes, it’s true. I’ve succumbed to the siren lure of Net Galley, which means I’m back in the reviewing business—at least for books I actually want to read.
And I always want to read Anne Stuart. Even when I rage at her for forgetting to describe a major character (not a problem in Ruthless) or the vagaries of her copyeditor (ALWAYS a problem), I would read her grocery lists if somebody let me.
Fortunately for you, they only let me read her books. Ruthless (which I bought in anticipation of reviewing the other books in the series) ranks as a vintage Stuart historical.
Impoverished 18th century gentlewoman Elinor Harriman storms the gates of hell—aka, the country estate of dissolute but dangerously gorgeous Viscount Rohan, leader of a Paris-based version of the Hellfire Club known as the Heavenly Host—to prevent her demented syphilitic mother from gambling away their little family’s last centime. Elinor fails, but something about her interesting (if not conventionally beautiful) looks, her vulnerable pride and tart tongue piques Rohan’s “curiosity”. He thinks his jaded appetites have finally up with him. Any dedicated Stuart reader (heck, any romance reader) knows better.
Along the way to the happy ending (for crying out loud, the book’s labeled romance; it’s absolutely no spoiler to say there’s a happy ending), the reader finds finger-sizzling sexual tension, beaucoup witty dialogue, a murderous villain, and a darling secondary romance.
Rohan slinks. Stuart, like Georgette Heyer, possesses the enviable ability to create truly feline heroes—predatory, lethal, graceful, beautiful, image-obsessed men who somehow remain entirely masculine. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. In fact, it’s damn near impossible. My forebrain, trained in the ways of masculinity by my career Army father and years of working with warriors of every stripe, laughs at the very notion. Yet Stuart and Heyer always manage to slide past my preconceptions, usually by letting the hero’s act slip just a little and following up with the one-two punch of a killer back story.
Ruthless doesn’t explode any preconceived notions of Stuart’s style or her favorite plot devices. I knew who the hidden bad guy was at the second assault. But I didn’t hate the characters for failing to keep up, because they either lacked the necessary background or were, um, otherwise engaged at the moment. Stuart writes too smart for that.
She writes beautifully, too, and when I wasn’t wishing I could’ve given the manuscript one final proofing, her words and emotions propelled me through the pages. Lifting this book to a higher level were Stuart’s playful allusions to Heyer, specifically Heyer’s These Old Shades and Faro’s Daughter (one of this redhead’s very favorite books ever). Meanwhile she rings the changes on the Persephone myth with a variation as juicy as the pomegranate seeds that spelled Persephone’s doom.
Or her salvation. That’s the beauty of Stuart’s tales of dangerous men. She never breaks them. Over the course of the novel, her hero and her heroine grow into a delicious accommodation which ultimately respects both parties—something my forebrain loves as much as good writing, and that’s saying a lot.
Now to dive into the next two books of the House of Rohan series, Reckless and Breathless. Like I said, Net Galley has a lot to answer for.
Verdict: Two thumbs up.