It’s hard for me to write a review for this book. On one hand, it made an impact. On the other, I didn’t really like it, even though I couldn’t stop reading. The problem, as is often the case for me, is in the protagonists, or rather one of them, the man, Ralph Stockwood.
The novel is a regency romance, #5 in the Survivors’ Club series. The plot is simple and could be summed up in four words: a marriage of convenience. Ralph, the hero, survived the Napoleonic wars, but all his friends died on the battlefield, and he feels guilty. He also suffers from PTSD and depression, rather frequent maladies for former soldiers. He closed his heart for emotions of any kind – it’s easier not to become attached, not to allow himself to feel.
Unfortunately, he is the heir to a dukedom (poor Ralph, he is to become a duke soon, as soon as his grandfather dies – don’t you pity him, folks?). He must get married and produce an heir and a spare. He is contemplating marriage without feelings when he meets the heroine Chloe.
Chloe suffered several disappointments of her own. At twenty-six, she is resigned to being a spinster but she fervently wishes for a family of her own, a husband, a home, and children. She suggests a bargain to Ralph. They would get married but wouldn’t even think of an emotional connection. They would be cold, emotionless partners in bed and out of it. Ralph agrees.
The majority of the book happens after, as they both try to keep to their bargain. Ralph succeeds much better than Chloe. He treats her like a cold-hearted bastard, in bed and out of it. Their sex scenes are simple penetration. He doesn’t go for any foreplay, doesn’t touch or even kiss her, just sticks his dick inside, and she allows this repulsive treatment. She made a bargain after all.
I understand his problems, I do. I was diagnose with depression myself a decade ago and have been managing it since. It’s not easy and it explains a lot in his behavior but it doesn’t excuse him being a jerk to her. Nothing does.
The author explores several complex themes in her story: love and happiness, mental illness and courage. What does it mean to be brave, she asks her readers? Is Ralph a coward if he is afraid to risk opening his heart again? But he was brave enough to gallop at the enemy through the hail of bullets. Is it bravery to stand up for your convictions, even if everyone around you disapproves? Is it bravery or cowardice or foolishness to be a pacifist at the time of war? Do you need courage to love? Are those braveries different from each other?
Below are a few quotes I couldn’t resist including in my review.
Chloe’s brother, Graham, a clergyman, talks about love:
“I try not to make judgements,” he said. “What is your good may be my evil. I try just to love – a simple enough concept, though even loving is not simple. Perhaps it merely means accepting people for who they are and respecting their choices and sympathizing with their pain.”
Graham again, this time talking about pain:
“It’s the human condition,” he said. “No one who lives into adulthood can escape it. Even children cannot. It is what we do with the pain, though, how we allow it to shape our character and actions and relationships that matters.”
And here what Chloe thinks about happiness:
“Happiness is just a word,” she said. “It is like love in that way. There are many definitions, all of them accurate, but none of them all-encompassing.”