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Claiming the Courtesan, by Anna Campbell

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

You can find Claiming the Courtesan at amazon.com here and at amazon uk here.

6 Comments »


  • Ann Bruce
    September 25
    2:11 pm

    I bought this book months ago, read the first two chapters, and had to put it down. (And, admittedly, I did skim the ending and would’ve returned the book had I not bought it while on a business trip to Houston.)

    Now, I’m kind of torn about finishing it.

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  • AL: Great review! But how did you feel about the forced seductione scenes, or rather for some readers the rape scenes? I loved the writing here but the first few scenes where Kyle tells Verity he will have her even though she says no, reminds me too much of the old bodice rippers.

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  • Ann, I don’t know what to tell you; it took me two tries to get past some of the exchanges in the carriage (personal baggage) but once I got into it, I thought the writing was powerful and engaging up to page… 290 or so. After that, it seemed like a different story to me.

    katie(babs), it is an interesting discussion. I re-read the novel with my s.o., who was reading it for the first time, and we talked a lot about this while reading and again after closing the book.

    In his opinion, it is rape, period, because Kylemore “took” Verity regardless of her wishes, and because a physical response (he gave her pleasure/didn’t hurt her) is no excuse for ignoring her clearly stated “no.”

    As for me, you would think that given my own baggage, I would be even more black and white about it. In truth, I’m not. While Verity does say no, there is also a fatalism in her feelings and thought processes; a certain “he’s entitled” vibe I get that I can’t explain. So I waver between, “yes, rape, he took away her right to choose” and “well, not really, more like forced seduction.”

    I don’t have an easy answer yet, and I don’t think I’ll ever will. Sometimes it happens this way *shrug*

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  • I felt the very first “intimate scene” was definite rape because she said NO and, how can I saw this without offending anyone, but her body didn’t start to respond to the sex as it was happening, like I have read in past romances. If you noticed, after the second and third scenes, Verity’s body welcomed Kyle even though she would say no.
    Forced seductions walk a very fine line in romances and I think it depends on how well the author can pull it off. I can’t help by compare this book to A Rose at Midnight by Anne Stuart, which had a many forced scenes. And that book is one of my all time favorite romances

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  • Chantal
    September 25
    6:56 pm

    I hated CTC so much that I actually stopped bying avon books for several month because of it.

    I’m also really sick of the excuse of ‘oh, that is how it was back then, so it’s ok to put it in the book’ when this book first came out.
    AUGH! If that was really the case, then almost every historial would have flat out rape scense in them.
    I know I’m bitchy about this, but geez, it makes me turn bitchy when I see women defending rape.

    When it comes to forced seducation, I do like it. It’s very Me Tarzan, you Jane. I go for that stuff, I guess.
    Rape, though, no way.

    CTC was rape though. I don’t see how anyone can see otherwise.

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  • Monica Kaye
    September 26
    6:24 am

    I don’t often put books down. Especially when I’m two-thirds of the way through it but that’s what I had to do with this book. I don’t generally have a problem with forced seduction as long as there is some emotional connection between the two characters and there is a clear point where the heroine ‘gives in’ to her overwhelming desire. But this was rape pure and simple. Eeew!

    My problem with this book was not only the initial rape but also the fact that I did not find either character sympathetic. I hated Kylemore and there was nothing appealing to me about Verity. I just didn’t like them. Plain and simple. That’s why this book was a wallbanger for me.

    Ironically enough, I stopped reading just at the point where Kylemore was starting to become sympathetic. My friend, who also read the book, said that we get an explanation abot why he was such an a-hole but I told her that I really didn’t care. And that was the problem.

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