Note: This review contains some spoilers.
This book is the second in the Captive Hearts series. Neither of the other two books have been reviewed yet.
So this may be the first Grace Burrowes book that I can honestly say I was not in love with. I still liked it–there’s a lot to recommend this book and it’s a daring book to attempt, but I suppose I’m just too conscious of the concept of torture that I had trouble planting myself firmly in historical context.
The villain of the first book in this series, The Captive, Sebastian St. Clair (known to the hero in that book as Robert Girard) takes center stage here. It’s not the first time an author has tried to redeem a previous rogue. Off the top of my head, Lisa Kleypas’ The Devil in Winter (whose hero was also named Sebastian) was successful as it’s consistently ranked as one of the top ten romances. Stephanie Laurens also did it more recently in Loving Rose, with her Malcom Sinclair, to maybe a bit more mixed results. But it’s always brave to take the villain and give him a chance at love.
I think, for me, the problem is I did read the first book, and I watched Christian battle back from the torture inflicted on him by Girard/Sebastian during the war, so his suffering is in the back of my mind as I read this. Sebastian, an English boy, abandoned in France when the 1803 Peace of Amiens collapsed, has returned to take up title as baron and care for his elderly aunt, whose companion, Milly Danforth captures his attention. He’s being challenged left and right by the men he tortured during the wars, who are encouraged through the machinations of Sebastian’s former French commander, looking to eliminate Sebastian for his own reasons.
So here’s the thing: The book is well-written. The story is ambitious. The heroine, Milly, for the most part, is charming and interesting. But the hero? Well…I just couldn’t quite find it in myself to feel bad that these men continued to challenge Sebastian. He just didn’t work for me.
Yes, he’s haunted by the things he did. Yes, Ms. Burrowes does a relatively good job of explaining his motivations, but by the end of the book, there’s an attempt by the Duke of Wellington of all people, to paint him in heroic terms–no one ever died and Sebastian even attempted to ransom most of the British men with his own money.
And repeatedly, Milly makes the argument on his behalf that Sebastian was not the one who captured the men tortured out of uniform, which made me very uncomfortable as it strayed all too close to the concept of blaming the victim.
I don’t know, I guess I just…I have friends who study political science, and I’ve read too many articles, too many books on the torture to really…engage in a hero who is guilty of the same thing. Yes, I know all the reasons this shouldn’t bother me. It was two centuries ago, well before the Geneva Convention, when it was practiced on both sides on men caught out of uniform. I’m aware that the English were just as bad (I just reread Burrowes’ The Soldier, in which that hero, Devlin, is haunted by the rape and pillaging of his own side) But it doesn’t change my inherent…barrier.
That being said, if for nothing else, it’s worth reading because it does challenge your perspectives and it’s to Ms. Burrowes’ credit that Sebastian never tries to whitewash his own actions–only the people around him do, possibly in order to rationalize loving him or even forgiving him.
A minor nitpick that continued to bother me each time it was mentioned: Ms. Burrowes writes about Milly catching a stage from King’s Cross at least twice. As this book was set just after the Napoleonic Wars, this is anachronistic. King’s Cross is a major train station built in 1852, but it received that name due to a monument of George IV — placed there in 1830, long after this story takes place. I lived just up the road from the station and walk past it constantly, so its history is in my head. But I digress.
An interesting effort from a wonderful author, but not quite the thing for me.