Finished this last weekend but didn’t immediately post about it. You see I wasn’t quite sure if I liked Derek Craven, the hero.
Uh, oh … I can feel a few pairs of eyes narrowing at this confession, the fiercest being from Kristie … gulp.
Anyway, *grin*, the book is definitely another Kleypas masterpiece. There is the emotional intensity, rounded characters, lush description and well-paced storyline that are the hallmarks of her works. She has chosen two characters outside the elite aristocratic society as hero and heroine, another reason why I love her books … reading about lords and ladies all the time could be a little monotonous.
Back to the central characters: the hero rose above a tortured past to become one of the wealthiest man in England, an admirable accomplishment in itself, as it proves the strength of his character. The heroine? Why, she’s a courageous author (and a successful one at that whose last novel Matilda was the talk of the town) and a woman well ahead of her time, who dreams of love but lives vicariously through her own novels, and sometimes the seemingly more fascinating lives of others during the course of her ‘research’.
** Spoiler alert**
What I couldn’t reconcile was how Derek could be so relentless, some may even say ruthless, in his pursuit of success and wealth, but when it comes to love, he became almost a shadow of his true self. He ended his relationships when they got too intimate — one of the reasons why he sort of ‘pushed’ Lily Lawson (Then Came You) to Lord Alex. He hesitated to take action. Instead he chose to hide behind his shameful past and used that as an excuse not to pursue his heart’s desire because he did not think that he deserved happiness. That’s some kind of warped thinking for you.
In the beginning, I pitied him, then I got a bit mad at him for not getting out of that rathole he’s backed himself into and start being true to his heart, for being such a scaredy wimp and for continuing to wallow in his ridiculous belief that he did not deserve to have Sara. When he let Sara returned to the village, actually he ordered her to get out of his life, I lost my patience with him. Only later when he related what he had gone through in his shocking childhood (digging graves to rob corpses for survival … it sobered me up and made me grateful for my relatively comfy one) did I begin to understand his hang-ups about not being worthy of love.
So it was a relief when the story turns, and Sara broke off her engagement to her on-and-off fiancee, and ventured to attend a house party Lily threw in the hopes of seeing Derek again. Of course, that house party could only lead to one ending: they both got hitched after they realised how they truly felt towards each other.
As is Kleypas’ style, the story doesn’t end there. Just at the height of their marital bliss, his ex-mistress, Lady Ashby, who didn’t take the rejection too well, and who’s a little psychotic, kidnapped Sara with the intention of destroying Derek, after burning down the club he’s spent his entire life to build it up to the raving success it was. Only she didn’t expect our heroine to be a resourceful and courageous fighter, and wound up getting herself shot and returned to her cruel husband.
The ending was rather satisfying as it marked a new beginning for Derek, who decided to come out of the closet, so to speak, and used his wealth and power to benefit the less fortunate in society and champion social causes openly, rather than being just an annonymous benefactor. Sara became much in demand for her radical beliefs in political and social reforms. And they lived HEA.
What saved the book for me was really Sara. She appeared as a bookish, prim and proper mouse but inside that veneer was a sensual, passionate woman of strong convictions, great resourcefulness and unfailing courage. She really amazed me with the transformation from a frustrated dreamer to a go-getter who’s not afraid to fight obstacles and objections to be with the one she truly loves. So actually Derek did her a favour to let her return to her village. It made her realised that she could never settle for anything less than a passionate love when it comes to her happiness. Derek needs her, whereas Perry, her so-called fiancee, needs to cut himself off his mom’s apron strings first!
I couldn’t help comparing Derek to Nick Gentry (Worth Any Price) and Simon Hunt (Secrets of a Summer Night), two Kleypas heroes whom I like. Guess what? Nick Gentry, who has a criminal, dark past, still comes up tops. His relentless pursuit of Charlotte, and his ruthlessness in binding her to him (yeah, I know I can be a little primitive in that area) because he desired her and harboured secret dreams about her, and her thorough conquest of his heart kept me enthralled throughout the book.
Oops … I hope I haven’t divided you ladies into Derek Craven and Nick Gentry camps. I’m going to give Kleypas a rest until Devil in Winter arrives, which I plan to read back-to-back with It Happened One Autumn. Patience … good things come to those who wait.