Review: The Duke

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The DukeThe Duke (Victorian Rebels, #4) by Kerrigan Byrne
Series: Victorian Rebels #4
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on February 7th 2017
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384
Goodreads
four-half-stars

“Life, with all its perils and torments, still belongs to the living. We have a responsibility to live it. You should not waste it by giving over to bleak despair.”

FINAL DECISION:  Once again a wonderful exploration of the darkness that lies in men’s souls and the possibility of love and hope to heal.  A battle between two strong characters make this a worthy addition to the Victorian Rebels series.

THE STORY:  Three years ago, the life of Collin “Cole” Talmage, Duke of Talmage, seemed charmed until his family was killed and he ended up betrayed by one he trusted and imprisoned for a year in a Ottoman cell. What kept him sane during that year was his memory of his encounter with “Ginny” a sweet prostitute with whom he spent his last night in England.  When he is returned to England, emaciated, recovering from torture, and missing hand, he almost dies until an impertinent nurse Imogen Pritchard risks her position to get him the treatment he needed.  Now two years later, Cole has learned to live with his missing hand but his spirits reside in darkness.  He has been searching unsuccessfully for Ginny. He has also been watching the widow next door, Lady Anstruther, who managed to convince an elderly man to marry her with him dying soon after.  Ironically, Lady Anstruther is the nurse who saved his life. What Cole doesn’t know is that Imogen is also the “Ginny” for whom he has been searching.

OPINION:  Another fabulous entry in the amazing Victorian Rebels series, Byrne continues her exploration of the darkness in the human soul and how that darkness can be softened with the power of love and hope.

“I’ve spent so long searching for her, and yet I fear that I’d pass her in the street and not recognize her.”

As the book opens, Cole has just begun to take the hits to his golden boy status.  He inherits the title because of the death of his family.  When he meets and beds Ginny, he doesn’t recognize her as the frightened and desperate woman she is, but he does find something peaceful and comforting with her.  Enough such that a year of torture and hellish conditions made her his touchstone. He has never forgotten her and is determined to find and rescue her.   Perhaps because the memory of Ginny was what helped Cole keep his sanity.  The year in prison changed Cole.  And he is still suffering from the emotional after effects of his horrendous experiences.

“He didn’t need the help of the devil. Case in point, these fits of wrath and unreasonable terror that made Cole want to do unspeakable things. These moments when what he feared the very most was himself…He was barely keeping himself together. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt peace or pity. No, that wasn’t true. He could remember. It has been precisely three years ago. With Ginny.”

Although people see the physical results of Cole’s time as a prisoner, it is the emotional damage that is the most significant. He has been keeping himself together by way of “regulation, convention, and order.”  It is ironically Imogen who threatens to break Cole’s will.  She challenges him by shaking his control. Cole first attacks her because he believes her a villain for marrying a sick and elderly man. She is a woman who should not be living next door to him at all. She seems to be flaunting the very rules that Cole wants to rely upon. While she shakes his control, she also is giving him purpose and a sense of hope even as they argue and engage in combat.

“But the countess Anstruther met his dark look with a mulish one of her own. God, it had been a long time since he’d felt so frustrated, so infuriated. It was…rather glorious.”

I loved Cole. He is a good man who was drawn far into the darkness. He has struggled to survive and doesn’t know how to begin to live again. Although he has relied upon order to control his anger and pain, he really is an unconventional soul who responds to Imogen’s own unconventional nature.  What he really needs is for Imogen to gather him into her arms and comfort him…he just doesn’t know it.

I usually love the heroes most in a romance, but in this book, I think Imogen was my favorite character. She begins the story by allowing herself to be a victim, but gains strength and purpose as the events of her life spiral out of control. By the time she and Cole meet again, Imogen has found a purpose in her life. She is determined to do all she can to help those who need a hand up — especially vulnerable women and children. Acutely recognizing her own savior in her deceased husband, she will use everything she gained as a result of her marriage to help others.  But, that comes with a cost.  She must keep secret from Cole her beginnings as Ginny because she fears that the revelation of her secret will destroy all her good works. Because she must keep her secrets, there is no chance for her and Cole to have a relationship, no matter how much she wants one.

Imogen has managed to keep hold of her hope and lightness despite the pain and travails of her life. It is her kindness and gentleness that calls to the pain in Cole and it is his pain that calls to her to comfort him. From their first meeting, she feels his pain (which only increases due to his capture and torture). Her spirit is called to him to heal and protect. But I also loved that Imogen is no pushover.  She is determined to do her charity work (even if it costs her Cole). She is stubborn and artistic and fierce. She will do what she must to protect those she loves.

“if she believed in everything, it was that everyone deserved a second chance.”

The journey that Cole and Imogen take involves chance.  The chance to reveal their true damaged selves to one another. The chance to move from darkness into light and hope.  These two need three chances to actually find their happy ending, but by the time it comes, the two have earned their peace and happiness.

This was a beautiful romance and a great addition to a series that I have loved. I was also gratified to see all the couples from the previous books make appearances here. There is a real community of people developing and I hope that this trend continues in future books.

WORTH MENTIONING:  For fans of Inspector Morley, there are indications that his story is turning in new directions.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  THE DUKE is the fourth book in the Victorian Rebels series.  This romance is self contained although there are overlapping characters.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4.5 stars.

NOTE:  I received an ARC of this book via Netgalley in order to provide a review.  I was not required to write a positive review.  All opinions contained herein are my own.

four-half-stars

Review: The Highlander

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The HighlanderThe Highlander (Victorian Rebels, #3) by Kerrigan Byrne
Series: Victorian Rebels #3
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on August 2nd 2016
Genres: Historical
Pages: 368
Goodreads
four-half-stars

“What a tragedy they both were. Bruised and beaten by those who were supposed to have loved and protected them. Tossed upon a sea of cruelty, and seeking refuge in this unforgiving world.  Seeking sanctuary, but hoping for redemption.”

FINAL DECISION:  The story of two people haunted by violence, Liam and Mena are incredibly sweet in their romance even with all the dark secrets that seem to be against them.

THE STORY:  Laird Liam Mackenzie, Marquess Ravencroft is known as the Demon Highlander from his career in the army.  Returning to his home in Scotland to care for his children, he is in need of a governess and writes to the wife of his half brother who happens to be the king of London’s underworld, the Blackheart of Ben More. Farah sends Liam Miss Philomena Lockhart, to care for his children.  Philomena has secrets.  The most important is that she is being sent to Scotland to hide from her abusive Viscount husband who had her sent to an asylum for going against his family.  Pretending to be an unmarried spinster governess, Mena never expected to be attracted to the dangerous laird.

OPINION:  Can two people haunted by violence find a sweet love together?  What I loved about this book is its relentless determination in showing that everyone deserves love and can find it.

“A good man with a frightening past. A violent man with a wish for peace.”

Liam is a man haunted by the violence that has dominated his life since he was a child. Growing up the heir of an evil and sadistic man, Liam has had violence ingrained in him. Years of being useful to the British Army because of his brutality has only confirmed his belief that he is unworthy of peace and happiness or even forgiveness.

“‘Do ye believe, Miss Lockhart, that we may be forgiven our sins? That the past can ever be left behind us?’  She shook her head. ‘We may try to leave the past, but I don’t think the past ever truly leaves us.  It is part of us; it shapes us into who we are.  don’t think any of us escapes that fate, my laird.'”

Mena is the last woman who should have any feelings for a man of violence. Abused by her husband, sent to an asylum because of her honesty, Mena is now in hiding.  I loved that she discovers a woman who can stand up for herself against a man that she should rationally be frightened of.  For a woman who has had such a difficult life (abused by her husband, dominated by her husband’s family, barren), Mena still has such a good heart. Her capacity for love, understanding and forgiveness was amazing. As she finds confidence in herself, she develops into a very special woman.

In fact, the generousness of Mena’s spirit is what makes their relationship even possible. I love how two people who should never work find their scars and fractures bring healing to the other. Mena gets a strong man to protect her and value her and allow her to be strong.  Liam needs to use his strength to protect rather than hurt and to find someone who accepts him and his past.  I love how these two find compassion, forgiveness and love in one another.

“‘The devil is in all of us, I think.  That’s what makes us human rather than divine. I believe there is a tenuous balance between redemption and damnation. You cannot have one without testing the limits of the other. No light, without first conquering darkness. No courage, without battling your fear. No mercy, unless you experience suffering.’ She turned to gaze at the golden cross gleaming on the altar, her mouth pressing into a line. ‘No forgiveness without someone having wronged you.'”

Byrne is the queen of darkness and angst giving us characters which are tortured and in pain. Yet, there is always a way to happiness and joy for these people.  I have a great fondness for stories where the characters are mired in darkness as the book starts.  Having damaged characters find happiness affirms that everyone deserves love.  The best part of Byrne’s tortured characters, however, is that she never slips into her stories being sad and depressing.  No matter how dark the past of her characters, there is a light at the end of their journey.

The book contains one of the most painfully emotional scenes I have ever read. Sent to an asylum by her husband and her family, Mena is subject to abuse there as well.  Knowing that real women in history suffered the same kind of confinement and abuse merely because they were impertinent and inconvenient for those with power over them, devastated me and I found I could only read those scenes in small doses.  Yet there was nothing gratuitous in those scenes, the truth was painful enough.

I also wanted to mention something I noticed in both THE HUNTER and this book which is Bryne’s incredibly deft way she deals with children who are not related by blood with one of the main characters. Here Liam has two children who are nearly grown. Mena has to develop her own relationship with these children and Liam, himself, having been absent for most of their lives has to find out how to relate to who his children actually are. I enjoyed seeing these secondary relationships develop and am also happy that Bryne didn’t magically “cure” Mena’s infertility but instead gave her a family built on love rather than merely biology.

Finally, I love the appearance of characters from the series who make significant additions to the story.  I prefer when characters intertwine throughout the stories. Here, there is a very nice balance. Readers who haven’t read the other books in the series will not miss anything, but readers who follow the series get to see favorites again.

WORTH MENTIONING:  Kerrigan Byrne is very naughty for giving a preview of the next book in the epilogue. Three intriguing words “rather scandalous duchess.”

CONNECTED BOOKS:  THE HIGHLANDER is the third book in the Victorian Rebels series.  While there are overlapping characters, this book can be read as a standalone.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4.5 stars.

four-half-stars

Review: The Hunter

Review: The HunterThe Hunter (Victorian Rebels, #2) by Kerrigan Byrne
Series: Victorian Rebels #2
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on February 2nd 2016
Genres: Historical
Pages: 432
Goodreads
five-stars

I Loved This Better Than the First in the Series

“Christopher Argent was a creature born of nightmares, a man who looked evil in the face and challenged it to a duel. Millie acknowledged that in this instance, she didn’t need a white knight, but a shadow that could traverse the darkness with the cunning and speed of that lethal viper.”

FINAL DECISION:

THE STORY: Christopher Argent is a hunter, a hired killer and assasin. Born and raised in Newgate Prison, Christopher is the “coldest, deadliest man in all London.” He is hired to kill Millie LeCour, an actress and mother and supposedly a whore and thief. When he arrives at the theater to kill her, he finds himself entranced by Millie and unable to bring himself to kill for the first time. Instead, Christopher offers Millie a bargain — a night in her bed in exchange for his protection. Millie will do anything to protect her son and her attraction to Christopher makes their bargain palatable and perhaps even desirable.

OPINION: Oh, I am a sucker for these dark, dangerous and damaged heroes. Christopher is a man who has lost so much that he desires nothing. He survived a monstrous childhood by shutting out all emotions and being a cold killer. When he sees Millie, her vivacity changes him. Even as he finds himself fascinated, he doesn’t understand what is happening to him. This book chronicles his journey from cold killer to a man who can love. The ability to make a man who kills without remorse a hero is a difficult task, but Byrne does a marvelous job of allowing readers such insight into Christopher that his transformation is believable.

Millie is a heroine to admire. Practical, accomplished, ambitious, professional, loving and willing to risk everything for Christopher and her son. She is a professional actress and this book depicts that life in a way that feels organic and real. I especially enjoyed how Millie is not waiting for a man to rescue her. In both this book and in THE HIGHWAYMAN, Byrne depicts women who are making their own way through life by way of their own work and efforts.

Dark, romantic and complex, the romance between Christopher and Millie is not for readers looking for a light and humorous read. But for those of us who love our heroes on the edge of being the villain with must angst and drama, this book is for you.

WORTH MENTIONING: There are significant appearances by the hero and heroine from the first book in the series, THE HIGHWAYMAN. I was pleased to see how their marriage was going.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE HUNTER is the second book in the Victorian Rebels series. It can be read as a standalone but is better read after the first book in the series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 5 stars.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book via Netgalley in order to provide a review. I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.

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five-stars

Review: The Highwayman

Review: The HighwaymanThe Highwayman (Victorian Rebels, #1) by Kerrigan Byrne
Series: Victorian Rebels #1
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on September 1st 2015
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384
Goodreads
four-half-stars

The Story of Love and Secrets

“Her husband. A thief, a highwayman, a criminal. A coldhearted killer.”

FINAL DECISION: I loved this book because of the timeless nature of the love between the hero and heroine. It feels like they were always fated to find one another.

THE STORY: Farah Leigh Mackenzie is an innocent widow who is working as a clerk in Scotland Yard. As a child she loved a boy with whom she was in a orphanage. She was devastated when he died in prison. Now seventeen years later, she meets Dorian Blackwell, the Blackheart of Ben Mar who is a criminal mastermind who worked his way into being one of the wealthiest and influential men in England. Dorian offers Farah the opportunity to avenge her lost love (with whom Dorian was in prison) and deal with a secret that Farah herself has. All she has to do is marry him.

OPINION: This story is built on a sad story of Farah’s lost love. When she meets Dorian, she begins to find that this scarred and hardened man is more complex than she imagined. His friendship with her childhood loves convinces her to trust him and ultimately to marry him. Dorian has emerged from his childhood and young adulthood, scarred both on the outside but also on the inside. His life has compelled him to do bad things, but he is vulnerable to the sweet innocent Farah.

I thought the setup for this book was wonderful. The angst, the drama, the conflict was so good. The weakness of the story is that too many extremely painful parts of Farah and Dorian’s lives are too quickly resolved. What saved the book for me was that the two acknowledged that there will be days of darkness to come.

This book also has interesting secondary characters, some of whom will be the subject of later books.

WORTH MENTIONING: I am a fan of historical books that don’t take place in society ballrooms.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE HIGHWAYMAN is the first book in the Victorian Rebel series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

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four-half-stars