Breathless (The House of Rohan #3)

BreathlessBy Anne Stuart

Publisher: Mira
Publication Date: October 1, 2010
Genre: Historical Romance
Source: Netgalley

Ruined beyond repair and shunned by London society, lovely Miranda Rohan rebelliously embraces the freedom that comes from having nothing left to lose. However, this dangerous course throws her under the power of the darkly enigmatic Lucien de Malheur—known to many as the Scorpion.

Seeking to destroy the Rohans, Lucien traps Miranda in a marriage she thinks is based on friendship but instead is rooted in vengeance. Yet even when she realizes the truth, their enmity fuels a shocking passion—and perhaps even more.

Such a man might drive anyone to murder….

Goodreads Summary

Each succeeding book in the House of Rohan series follows the next generation of the family; here it’s Adrian and Charlotte’s daughter, Miranda.  Where I considered Francis and Elinor’s story in Ruthless a sort of intriguing cat and mouse game and found Adrian and Charlotte’s story in Reckless to frankly be a somewhat offensive quasi-stalker-ish story, this one slides into a dark story about revenge and the awful, evil things one man will do to a woman to exact it.

Lucien de Malheur’s stepsister Genevieve committed suicide after her engagement to Benedick Rohan ended abruptly and he’s been ruminating for years on how to best exact revenge on the Rohan family.  His decision: ruin their precious sister and make them watch and suffer, just like he did.  He engineers her abduction and rape and when the final stages go awry because Miranda manages to escape, he sits and waits for two years, watching as she’s ruined in society, outcast and living alone before deciding he’ll handle her ultimate destruction himself.

Knowing how desperate she is for friendship, he insinuates himself into her life, deliberately becoming exactly what she wants him to be.  He’s like an oily, evil chameleon, adapting to her moods and needs and she begins to be attracted to him, which is exactly what he wants.  He plays her like an instrument.  I wish I could say there was some little part of him that warmed to her spirit or felt some affection when she sparred with him, but there was none.  When she managed to surprise him by doing something he didn’t expect, he admired her like a chess player admires a fellow opponent, nothing more.  On the rare occasion when she managed to foil one of his nasty plots for her, he simply arranged for another one.  I won’t include spoilers, but there were moments even near the end when I wondered exactly how far he would go to humiliate Miranda in his insane need to avenge his stepsister.

Perhaps to balance Lucien’s depravity, Miranda is a miraculous heroine.  She’s unbelievably strong, determined that she won’t allow Lucien to break her.  She turns the tables on him when she can and simply holds on when she can’t, but she never runs away.  My heart broke for her on several occasions, especially when she finally realized how much she cared for Lucian, but mostly, I wanted to cheer for her spirit.

Now for the relatively easy part: what I didn’t like about this book.  It actually wasn’t that Lucien was too evil, although he was unbelievably despicable.  I wanted more information about what was it that had created this monster.  We were eventually told about his step-mother and her insanity, but why he was hell-bent on avenging Genevieve was never fleshed out; without the motive fully making sense, his behavior looked more ruthless and misdirected than it could have been.  I think Stuart, who obviously has a gift for characterizations, missed the boat here.  I think she left the redemption of Lucien too late in the story; with a character this dark, I expected him to come to his senses later than normal, but he was malevolent for a little too long.  It may have suited his character, but like the lack of clarity regarding his motives for revenge, it didn’t serve the story.

Weirdly enough, one of the things I also liked most about the story was Lucien.  As depraved as he was, he was fascinating to read about.  He could give Machiavelli lessons.  Stuart did a stunning job making him completely awful; with a character so lacking in redeeming qualities, it was compelling when he showed signs of weakness towards Miranda, even if it was something miniscule.  I can’t minimize the horrible things he arranged to have done to her, but it’s also true that he was unable to actually follow through on many of them once he personally took over his revenge plot.  It didn’t excuse him, but it changed my opinion of the story a bit.  Lucian and Miranda were two sides of a coin; as awful and dishonest as he was, she was equally kind and honest.  In some bizarre way, Miranda didn’t seem like such an impossible match for him.

Another positive for the book (a huge one) was for once, the secondary story.  The surprisingly sweet romantic story of Miranda’s friend Jane and Lucien’s friend, jewel thief Jacob was a nice counterbalance to the heavy main story.  Jane’s trapped in a loveless engagement when she encounters Jacob mid-heist and he kisses her; the abridged version is they end up on a long trip back home after she stows away in Miranda’s carriage when Lucien abducts her, and they fall in love.  When home, Jane realizes how unhappy she’ll be, but it takes Jacob beaning her fiancé over the head with a trunk to give her the courage to run away with him.  It’s a marvelously tender story about Jane coming out of her shell and realizing that she deserves to be loved.  My one quibble is that Jane is a little dense and it takes her far too long to just get it over with and tell Jacob how she feels.

I was completely conflicted about how to rate this for a while after reading it, but in the end, it really was a good story and I’m planning on reading it again.  I can’t give it 5 stars because I think without Lucien’s motives being clear, the story (and his character) suffers greatly.  Stuart can write the socks off of a character; no one can say they’re boring, and the dialogue and subject matter, however difficult and dark, is always amazingly well-written.  Love them or hate them, you have to admit, you do it strongly.

I recommend reading the series in order, beginning with Ruthless, then Reckless then this.  I hadn’t read Anne Stuart before this, but I definitely will continue with this series, I can’t imagine where she’ll take the Rohan family next.

My Rating: B+

Barbara

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