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Monday, January 4, 2010

Reap What You Sow

I liked Carrie Lofty's debut novel, What A Scoundrel Wants, for the reasons several readers I know didn't care for it. Both hero and heroine were "morally flexible." I'll be honest - Will and Meg would sell their own mothers if the price were halfway decent. And while romance readers seem more than willing to buy into dubious heroes? Yeah, not so much heroines (don't get me started on this subject). Also there was the fact that Meg hung her sister, Ada, out to dry. In a genre where heroines seem willing to easily forgive their sisters for some pretty inexcusable behavior, I kind of found that refreshing. I guess I'm more vindictive than I thought?

Scoundrel's Kiss gives us Ada's story, and our villain from book one is certainly reaping what she has sown. She left England, feeling betrayed by her sister, for Spain. Emotional pain, and physically injuries she sustained in the first book, cause her to turn to a cruel mistress - opium. We meet Ada in the throes her addiction, where she's literally at the point where she'll do anything for a fix. That's how she ends up in a brothel, and where our hero, Gavriel de Marqueda finds her.

Gavriel is inches away from becoming a monk and must complete one final test to prove his worthiness. His test? Ada. Clean her up, get her off opium, and put her on a path to a better life. The problem is that Gavriel is no saintly monk. He's a warrior, running from his past, his basest desires, and the evil he has committed. He wants to become a monk to atone, and now, standing in his way, is Ada. A woman so tempting, so challenging and so alluring, that no man is nearly saintly enough. Certainly not Gavriel.

My one requirement in romance novels is that the characters have free will. Good, bad, indifferent, I want them to have a choice (all "bad" choices are still choices nonetheless). Ada has made disastrous choices. One after another. This story details the consequences of those actions. Certainly nobody deserves to be an addict. But Ada made her choices, hurt people she loved, manipulated situations and people to suit her purposes. This is not a "nice girl" at the start of this story. She's not the type of heroine who goes skipping through the forest singing to woodland creatures. She's a hard woman.

The difference between this story and What A Scoundrel Wants rests solely on the hero's shoulders. Lofty has given us a classic wounded hero. Gavriel's childhood was beyond wretched. He's haunted by his past, desperate to atone, and willing to do just about anything to leave his old life behind. This is a hero, I think, most romance readers will be willing to get behind. He's determined to save the heroine from herself, live by the vows he has made, renounce his old life, and naturally along the way it all goes horribly awry. For that reason alone, I suspect this book will work better for readers who weren't enthralled by WaSW.
"Most men only take vows when they feel strongly," she said. "They believe. They feel connected to a higher ideal. They feel compelled - obliged even - to make a promise to God. They do not use them as a prison or a punishment. You've hidden from the world and put a cage around yourself."
Lofty continues to write different, challenging historical romances using unique settings (medieval Spain!) and characters. It's a shame her contract with Zebra has been fulfilled, and not renewed, because her rich tapestry of secondary characters are practically begging for future adventures (OMG - Jacob!). Whether or not you can roll with these types of characters and stories is incidental. Historical romance needs more risk-takers like Lofty, and sure as shootin' it needs more publishers willing to wander out on a limb. Not all different is "good" - but in this instance, I think it is. What a great way to start off 2010.

Final Grade = B+


Kati said...

Oooh! Shiny, a B+!

I still haven't read WaSW, but it's in my TBR stack and now I'll add this book.

This is a really well written review, Wendy. It makes me want to shift my reading priorities around to read the book.

LoriK said...

I must have missed some of the talk about WaSW. People were upset because Meg blew Ada off? Seriously? Ada totally brought that on herself. So much so that I hesitated to put SK in my TBR because I had no particular interest in seeing Ada get her HEA. After this review I'm now reconsidering.

I am disappointed that Lofty's contract with Zebra wasn't renewed. I love that her books weren't the same old, same old.

Lynn Spencer said...

Lofty didn't get renewed by Zebra? I know she has an ebook coming from Carina, but that still stinks! I really liked What a Scoundrel Wants (though I still think such a unique book needed a more unique title) and am looking forward to this book.

ms bookjunkie said...

I'm keeping an eye on SK for when I've dwindled down my TBR pile some.

And I'm sorry, I'm nitpicking, but I have to point these out. I think you mean THROES of addiction and WRETCHED childhood. Going away now.

Victoria Janssen said...

I'm looking forward to reading this one.

Nicole "Gidget" Kalstein said...

I like characters that mess up, because that's what human beings do. I don't want to read about how perfect some character is. That's booooring.

Ann Aguirre said...

Loved this book.

Wendy said...

Kati: I know all about shifting around reading priorities. I am seriously SO behind right now!

LoriK: Yeah - it was given as an example of why Meg wasn't "likable." I'm with you - Ada had it coming. But then I get frustrated by heroines who easily forgive family members for treating them like crap.

You should consider picking this one up. Lofty really makes Ada suffer the consequences of her actions. I totally bought into the redemption.

Lynn: Nope. She's done at Zebra. I'm a cynic, and wasn't totally surprised (bless her heart - she writes such "different" historicals) - but it's still vastly disappointing. Really looking forward to the Carina offering.

Ms. Bookjunkie: I need a Grammar Check. Spell Check just isn't enough for me. I blame it on the fact that I was up until 1:30AM this morning finishing this book :)

Victoria & Ann: I would have finished this book so much sooner -but was way-laid by holiday goo-ga and the stomach flu ::shudder:: I was really looking forward to this book and it did not disappoint!

Lyndee: I am a serious junkie for flawed heroines. It's a sickness, truly.....

sula said...

I'm very much looking forward to this book. put me down as another person who didn't get the "unlikeable" critique of Meg. I thought her reactions to Ada's treachery to be completely normal and authentic. I like a heroine with some spine. I really like Lofty's writing style and am eager to read this one. It's not everyone who would set a book in medieval spain and make the hero a monk and the heroine an addict. *g*

SonomaLass said...

I have both of Lofty's books on my list, but I got burned out on historicals and went on a steampunk and fantasy junket. So many readers I trust have enjoyed these books that I will definitely be reading them soon.

I'm disappointed when publishers shy away from different settings and characters. You're right that different isn't always good, but often it is refreshing!

jmc said...

I liked WaSW and thought it was original, and have SK up next in the TBR.

I appreciated Meg's independence and self-reliance, but was a little bothered by the dubious consent of the first sex (even as I enjoyed the role reversal) and her blaming Will for Ada's predicament.

Karen W. said...

I'm very happy to read your review because I didn't really care for WaSW, but SCOUNDRAL'S KISS sounds very interesting to me. Now I know I can pick it up and enjoy it, even though I wasn't a big fan of Lofty's first book.

Leslie said...

Great review Wendy! B+ and reading until 1:30am are high praise.

I've got WaSW on the tbr pile. I think having the h/h in the first book are, as you put it, "morally flexible" makes them sound more interesting. I'll have to read it and find out.

Kristie (J) said...

I wanted to like WASW SOOOO bad. I can take it when I have issues with the hero as long as the author transforms him during the course of the book and if I see change and growth with the heroine same thing. But when I don't like either one - well I can't handle that.
But a B+ for A Scoundrels Kiss - well I'll be getting it for sure!!

Carrie Lofty said...

Confession time: I thought I knew Ada and how to write her, but *I* hated her at the end of WaSW too! But then I remembered that old advice about how the villain is the hero of his own story. I managed to reconnect with Ada and see her side of the argument, so to speak. Now I'm glad to see that she's getting at least this much love!

Thanks, Wendy, and to everyone who stopped by with supportive comments re: my publisher. Don't worry about me. I have too much to say to go away quietly ;)

azteclady said...

Oh yes! I've been waiting for this since I read WaSW--FINALLY HERE! *happy dance*

nath said...

Great review Wendy :D Although I don't think this book is for me :P

Wendy said...

Sula: The Spain setting was really refreshing. Lofty handles it well.

SonomaLass: I know ALL about burn out. My Regency historical burn out was rather legendary until about a year ago. I'm just now starting to read them again.

JMC: I'm such a hypocrite that the first sex scene didn't bother me. Then I read your review and was like, "Oh yeah....." LOL

Karen & Kristie: You guys should consider this one - because I think Gavriel will appeal to those readers who didn't care for WaSW. That's my gut feeling anyway.

Leslie: Seriously, morally flexible. I'll be honest - it took some getting used to. Personally speaking, WaSW was a second half book for me - because by that point hero and heroine had figured out they had to work together.

Carrie: I think it helped too that you had Ada "fall" pretty hard. Redemption is easier to believe when the "villain" in question is on the cusp of losing everything.

AL: At the end of the day I liked this one better than WaSW - and I really liked that book!

Nath: Awwww, that's OK. You're our contemporary-readin' gal.

Las said...

This is the first I've heard of Lofty, and I'll definitely be reading her books now. I, too, have a vindictive streak, and my biggest complaint in romance has always been that heroines are too damn forgiving. Can't wait to read this one.

Katie Mack said...

This one definitely sounds intriguing. Thanks for the review.

KT Grant said...

Kensington's loss big time. But what I've heard about their money problems, perhaps it is better Carrie has gone on to better things.