Posted in: willaful, willaful reviews
Tags:Cecelia Grant, Historical romance
Sensuality rating: Torrid and Most Ungentlemanly
I’m envisioning Grant sitting down to work on this and musing to herself, “Hmmm, what romance convention shall I skewer today?” Our heroine Lydia is a courtesan, formerly a prostitute. She’s a courtesan who enjoys her work — or at least, some aspects of it.
With all the insolence she swallowed, it was a wonder her corsets still laced. Retort after rejoinder after sharp-edged remark: Why do you address me? What can I possibly have to say to a man who would split a pair of fives? Be quiet. Go to sleep. Go away. Come back when you have another erection.
And she’s a courtesan who is currently employed. Yes, for a good portion of this story, the heroine is having sex with a man other than the hero. If the uncomfortable sex in Grant’s A Lady Awakened was too much for you, this one is going to tie you in knots. We even have a reversal of the classic bodice ripper scene in which the innocent heroine spies on the hero having sex with another woman — except in this case, it’s Will spying on Lydia with her “protector.”
Will Blackshear is carrying around a terrible burden of guilt and responsibility. A promise to a dying man under his command at the Battle of Quatre Bras means he needs a lot of money fast, and the only way he can earn it is through gambling. This brings him in direct competition with Lydia, who’s trying to earn enough money gambling to support herself independently — and who has the card skills and math chops to beat Will and everyone else. What she doesn’t have is a respectable man to represent her business interests. So she and Will team up in secret to help each other — a somewhat dangerous undertaking, since Lydia is involved elsewhere, Will can’t afford a mistress, and they’re very attracted to each other.
Will is a conventional hero in that he’s protective, loving and giving (also, hung) but he’s constrained in his ability to help Lydia by many forces, including the fact that he’s incredibly messed up himself. The relationship that forms between them is complicated and sometimes painful, reflecting how damaged they both are. Grant does a beautiful job of pulling everything together to make a happy ending possible for this pair.
As with A Lady Awakened, the title here is very telling, and there’s more to it than meets the eye. With his tremendous sense of honour and responsibility toward others, Will is the essence of a true gentleman — but he may have to discard the trappings of gentlemanly living to achieve true happiness.
Although beautifully crafted, A Gentleman Undone is hard to rate. For the first part of the book I admired it, but felt a certain distance from the characters; the elegance of the writing sometimes felt a little forced to me, carefully articulating more than always needed to be told.
Her smile subsided. He’d said something wrong, or perhaps she’d simply moved from remembering her brother to remembering his loss.
But when things become intense between Will and Lydia, I was swept along powerfully. My final rating is 4 out of 5 stars. Thanks to netGalley for providing a review copy. You can order A Gentleman Undone from Amazon here and from Barnes & Noble here.