Posted in: AztecLady Reviews
Tags:Anna Campbell, Forced seduction
Set in 1825, Claiming the Courtesan transports the reader to a time when titled and powerful men were de facto above most laws, and when women with no family or from humble origins had few avenues to survive—and even fewer that were respectable.
Claiming the Courtesan is Ms Campbell’s debut novel. Frequently, first novels are less than stellar, as the writer is still finding her voice. That is most definitely not the case with this book. Ms Campbell’s writing is powerful, drawing the reader deeply into her characters’ world. It is not, however, an easy book to review.
First, the back cover blurb:
The Duke of Kylemore knows her as Soraya, London’s most celebrated courtesan. Men fight duels to spend an hour in her company. And only he comes close to taming her. Flying in the face of society, he decides to make her his bride; then, she vanishes, seemingly into thin air.
Dire circumstances have forced Verity Ashton to barter her innocence and change her name for the sake of her family. But Kylemore destroys her plans for a respectable life when he discovers her safe haven. He kidnaps her, sweeping her away to his hunting lodge in Scotland, where he vows to bend her to his will.
There he seduces her anew. Verity spends night after night with him in his bed… and though she still dreams of escape and independence, she knows she can never flee the unexpected, unwelcome love for the proud, powerful lover who claims her both body and soul.
While not terrible, the blurb omits some of the key elements in the conflict, such as Kylemore’s original reasons to offer marriage to a notorious courtesan and some of the nitty-gritty details of their original agreement, to say nothing of the impact that society at large has on their lives.
Claiming the Courtesan is a difficult novel to read, not because of the writing or the characterization, which are very good, but because the characters’ personalities and circumstances are both so alien to modern sensibilities and so well rendered, that one can’t help but feel Verity’s helplessness in the face of Kylemore’s arrogance and power. At the same time, there is a deep well of despair in him—the more he torments her with his power over her, the more he suffers. Between her anguish and his, it’s not a barrel of laughs, to say the least.
It is also important to notice that there is a controversy as to whether Kylemore rapes Verity or not after the kidnapping. While there is neither violence nor physical pain during those scenes, it is difficult to argue one way or the other with absolute certainty—as far as I can see, it’s a point for each reader to decide upon reading.
For about four fifths of the book, both the conflict and the attraction between these two characters felt very real—you may like or dislike the characters, you may want to shake some sense into them (first Kylemore, later Verity) but the writing is so good it draws you to them. You sympathize with their pain even if you can’t understand the logic behind their actions. People, after all, are not always logical in their behaviour.
Eventually, of course, things come to a head; there is a crisis, and an apparent resolution. It is not perfectly neat, as there are loose ends here and there, but the main conflict has been resolved in a way that feels right. I would have been quite happy had the novel ended then. Instead, Verity throws a monkey wrench in the works, and things go downhill from there.
By this I mean not only that, while the streak of martyrdom in her is more than a mile wide, its resurgence at this point in the story feels a bit forced, but also Verity’s decision creates what I consider unnecessary conflict. I believe I get what Ms Campbell was aiming for, from the point of view of societal pressures, social status, etc., but by then I was spending entirely too much time asking “but why? why??? WHY??” instead of empathizing with the characters’ anguish. Then, a subplot hinted at much earlier in the novel suddenly comes back to center stage, provoking yet another crisis and the final resolution.
Those last seventy or so pages of the novel don’t hold up to the quality of the first three hundred; I couldn’t suspend my disbelief long enough to immerse myself in this part story.
I really liked the characterization and personal growth of both Verity and Kylemore during most of the novel, even though in contrast the few secondary characters appear to be little more than sketches: her protective younger brother, his villainous mother, the wise old family retainer with a heart of gold.
While Claiming the Courtesan had a very strong emotional impact on me during the first read, it didn’t hold up as well for me on a second reading.
7 out of 10