Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Ruthless by Anne Stuart
Mira, 2010, 400 pages
$7.99 mass market paperback; $5.49 Kindle e-book

This was my first book by Anne Stuart, whose work I have been meaning to read. The main word I have heard to describe Stuart’s novels over the years is “dark”. The term particularly applies to her heroes, who tend to be men whose past experiences have twisted them to some extent, but who are ultimately redeemed by falling love with a woman who is always intelligent if not always conventionally attractive. Under the hero’s tutelage, the heroine discovers her own strong sexuality.

Lord Francis Rohan fits this type perfectly. A titled noble in both France and England, he presides over the “Heavenly Host”, a secret society of upper crust men and women who meet periodically for revels that include various sexual diversions such as orgies and sadomasochism. Rohan is tired of it all, no longer entertained but goes through the motions. His interest is piqued only by the appearance of an innocent interloper at the latest party.

Elinor Harriman and her sister Lydia spent their childhood coddled in upper class surroundings, but that was long ago, before their mother left their father for a new lover in France, taking the girls with her. Since then their mother has been on a downward spiral of drunkeness, gambling, debt and increasingly unsavory lovers, with the result that she is now physically and mentally ill. With two faithful servants who are more like family, Elinor and Lydia are hanging on to impoverished respectability by their fingernails, and Elinor can see no path for them but downward once their mother dies.

As the Heavenly Host’s revels begin, Elinor’s mother takes the last of their saleable jewelry and heads to the party to gamble and frolic. Elinor goes after her, and catches the eye of Rohan, who hides her away from the partiers and shows a surprisingly tender side when he sequesters her with his own faithful servant. Ultimately, of course, he seduces her and they begin an affair of denying attraction while indulging it, and denying emotional involvement even as their lives become increasingly entangled with each other.

I enjoyed the story and sped through it, not wanting to put it down. I liked the darkness in both hero and heroine’s pasts, and it was interesting to read a story featuring desperately impoverished characters rather than comfortably wealthy ones. And of course, the fantasy of a rich “prince” rescuing the good but poor girls from squalor is one that is always fun to see play out.

Besides the main storyline, there were several subplots that kept things moving along. Two different villains schemed against Elinor and made attempts on her life and that of her family members. These characters were rather one-note and only served to move the plot along, but were both enjoyably evil and deserving of any comeuppance they received.

I was more disappointed by the short shrift given to the secondary romance between Lydia and Charles, who is Rohan’s friend. Lydia is the impossibly sweet and good girl who shines even in their impoverished surroundings and Charles is too nice and upstanding to be comfortable in the Heavenly Host’s environment. Their developing attraction to each other was apparent but neither character was well enough developed to make it really interesting.

The Georgian era when this story takes place was an exciting time if you were in the aristocracy or comfortably wealthy, but as in other favorite romance novel periods, that world was a different, darker and more dangerous place if you were not well off. I like books that pay attention that that setting rather than focusing solely on the most privileged of society.

Overall I enjoyed Ruthless very much, and immediately started on the second book of the trilogy, Reckless, and plan to read the third book as well. Watch this space for those reviews, coming soon!

I recommend this book for: historical romance readers who like flawed heroes

Hi, FTC: I received an e-galley of this book from Mira (an imprint of Harlequin) via Net Galley. Thank you!

No comments:

Post a Comment