Confession! Though I love (and I really do mean LOVE) this series, I only read it from the 4th volume onward. Before that, there were too many soap-opera plot points for my tastes. But then, come the 4th, Hero really takes a role in the plot. I make no secret of the fact that Hero is the main reason I read this series. Oh, Sebastian is all very well, but Hero... now that is a lady worth reading.
I was really looking forward to this book - a 3 star rating is a good one coming from me but, I must admit, it's the lowest I've given to the Sebastian St. Cyr series, the other ones are all 4 stars and, of course, 5 stars to the amazing When Maidens Mourn.
This is immaterial and does not reflect itself on the rating, but I do wish they'd obscured Sebastian's face on the cover...
But on to more serious considerations: I felt this story was slow to start and not as engaging as usual.
It all seemed so very... formulaic. And I didn't particularly care for the mystery, it lacked the more personal involvement of the main characters in its outcome.
One thing I outright disliked was how Marie-Thérèse of France was characterised. I guess that's the danger of inserting well-known non-fictional characters into a work of fiction, you can't please all your readers in the way you portray them. Oh, she may very well have been like that, but Sebastian would be one of the last people who could criticise her position. This is a man who spiralled into depression and alcohol abuse for matters far more trifling than those Marie-Thérèse went through.
Yet, his plight is seen as tragic, and his battle to overcome it manly and valiant.
Marie-Thérèse is seen as unbalanced, and absurd for clinging to her grief. This woman was imprisoned as a child, lost her siblings, her parents were murdered, and her whole way of life was destroyed... She wants to spend the rest of her life being distrustful? I find that sensible! She is rancorous and dreams of revenge over those who murdered her family? I find that acceptable.
Both Sebastian, and even Hero (!), however, do not.
"She has hysterics. She’s been known to faint at the sight of a barred window, and she trembles violently at the beat of a drum or the peal of a church bell. She has never really recovered from what was done to her. And while no one could ever in any way hold that against her, I still—”
“Don’t trust her?”
“I wouldn’t trust either her sincerity or her sanity.”"
Hero, who are you to speak of trust?! I wouldn't trust you, you being the daughter of whom you are. I wouldn't trust your husband. I wouldn't trust anyone in these books, and I don't see why Marie-Thérèse should.
Then this is the one book that has Sebastian, who is always incredibly clever, having a tstl moment when he leaves the body of the man who attacked him (without checking his face to learn his identity!!!) to call the authorities. Convenient, plot-wise, but unforgivably stupid of the character.
There wasn't enough Hero in this book - there never is enough of the Dowager Duchess of Claiborne, either, but there is usually a bit more. And to be honest, the book suffered a bit for it.
Also, while I usually find nothing to fault in C.S. Harris' writing, there were some very odd turns of phrase - C.S. Harris is a very skilled writer, so what is something like this doing in one of her books?
“With the pain, or with his opium ad—” He started to say “addiction” and changed it to “—problem.”
There was also a "his accent was pure Oxbridge" - Oxbridge is a a portmanteau from the mid-19th century - this book is set in 1813...
But these quibbles aside, it's a Sebastian St. Cyr book and therefore well worth reading - perhaps not the best of the series, but still better than most historical fiction written at the moment.
Also, it was very cute to see Sebastian wanting a daughter and Hero insisting they were having a boy. And it was touching how worried they were with Hero's pregnancy and its risks to mother and child. There weren't many moments (or not as many as I'd wished) between them, but those that existed were excellent at showing the reader the progression in Hero and Sebastian's relationship.
Looking forward to the next book!! And, as always, I highly recommend this series to any who haven't read it yet!
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