Book Source: Net Galley
Lady Miranda Rohan committed Society’s ultimate crime. After allowing herself to be abducted and deflowered by a fortune hunter, she neither married him nor pined away in decent obscurity. Instead, she adapted to her new life and thrived…except for an occasional spot of boredom. Unfortunately, boredom is a Rohan’s Achilles heel. It’s only a matter of time before her risk-taking nature reasserts itself, playing into the schemes of Lucien de Malheur, the notorious Earl of Rochdale.
Lucien isn’t called the Scorpion simply because he used to keep one as a pet. He’s almost a caricature of Ms. Stuart’s trademark Scorpio heroes: literally scarred and twisted, the light inherent in his name all but extinguished by his experiences. Seeking a cruel poetic justice for his dead half-sister, he will stop at nothing to achieve his vengeance against the Rohans, including relative innocents like Miranda.
As we discover in his first scene, Lucien was the true, if hidden, architect of her ruin. I could accept that. What I found difficult to swallow was the scenario he devised, one which couldn’t help but lead to the 19th century equivalent of date rape. At some level, a man as intelligent as Lucien must’ve known and accepted this outcome. Turning a man capable of that into hero material presents an almost insuperable challenge. Ms. Stuart just about pulls it off.
With the story of Lucien and Miranda, she returns to her favorite theme: the redemption of the not-quite-damned. Lucien excels at mind sex, seducing by the force of his personality and playing on the sunny Miranda’s inevitable curiosity about his shadow life. He claims she wants him to play her Caliban, but he takes his cues from Shakespeare’s Richard III.
Not to mention Hades. Ruthless, the first book in the House of Rohan series, teased the reader with allusions to the abduction of Persephone. Here we see the myth played out, minus the crazy mother-in-law as Deus ex Machina. Miranda-as-Persephone is more than a match for her Dark Lord, especially given her Shakespearean skill set. I loved, loved, loved the strategy she used to wear him down—and the insight Ms. Stuart gives into its cost. The banter and smashing climax (Of the plot! Geez, some people—you know Ms. Stuart always delivers more than one of those) provide everything a fan could ask.
But a part of me still hesitates. It’s one thing to say fiction need only answer to itself and the truth of its characters. It’s quite another to accept it when a hero’s truth contradicts a deep-seated conviction. Heroes don’t hurt heroines, even by proxy. My daddy taught me that, and my mamma reinforced it by teaching me Frying Pan Kung Fu a very early age. It’s to Ms. Stuart’s credit that I enjoyed this book so much in spite of it.
Verdict: Two thumbs up for the writing, but with reservations.