Heart of Deception, by Taylor Chase

>> Monday, July 26, 2004

I've heard a lot about Heart of Deception (excerpt), by Taylor Chase online, all of it sounding very well (especially what was said about the heroine), so I bought the book.

Amid intrigue and assassination, Rafe Fletcher fights to save his family from charges of treason. Playing thief, he loses his heart to Vivian Swift, Queen of the Underworld. Must he betray the woman he loves to save life of the Queen Elizabeth? And will Vivian demand payment for such deadly deception in heart’s blood?
It was all I was hoping for and more! An A.

The most truly amazing thing about this book was the heroine, Vivian. Vivian and her brother Nick control the underworld of a certain area in London. Tell me the truth, what do you imagine when you read this? Maybe that she's a hair-tossing, feisty little girl, who thought it would be fun to dabble in illegal activities, à la Kit Cranmer, from Laurens' Captain Jack's Woman? Or maybe that her role is to mother all the little pickpockets, and that this book will be a version of Oliver Twist?

If you thought this, you'd be wrong. Vivian is no ninny and she's no earth mother type, either. She's an intelligent, capable, ruthless woman, who's well versed on the machinations needed to control her territory and is capable of being brutal when needed. She takes no pleasure from killing, but she doesn't hesitate to do so when necessary. She's not promiscuous, but she likes sex and has affairs with men when she feels like it. She can be kind, but she can also get enraged enough that she breaks things. In short, she's a strong, complicated woman, who does what needs to be done and if she enjoys it in the process, so what?

I also enjoyed the portrayal of the Elizabethan England underworld, Vivian's domain. This is no sanitized version of it. Vivian and Nick do protect their people, but they also do things like make shopkeepers pay for protection (very mafia-like, that). Their world is violent, and this shows in Chase's very colourful portrayal of it.

I loved to see her with Rafe, who's a darling, even if his whole purpose when he decides to infiltrate Vivian's domain is to betray her. Of course, soon after he meets her he becomes so fascinated by Vivian that he talks himself into believing it would be a good idea to become her lover, and he soon starts having doubts about whether a woman such as Vivian would do such a thing as plot treason.

I must say, the man really drives himself crazy about what to do. He's truly between a rock and a hard place. The mental torture he puts himself through goes a long way in helping me forgive him for betraying Viv.

The relationship between these two people was fascinating. Vivian's impulse is to treat Rafe as a toy, almost, I guess as a reaction against the feelings he engenders in her. I really liked Rafe's reactions to this: he doesn't allow for her to dominate him, but neither does he try to dominate her himself. He loves her the way she is, strong and ruthless. His upbringing with a grandfather who drilled virtue into him makes him not be comfortable with the fact that she makes her living off crime, but he doesn't judge what she's had to do to survive.

The plot was really good, too, though I wasn't too happy about a certain intrusion on this very nitty-gritty reality of a supernatural element, near the end, and which is crucial to our protagonists' finding out exactly what's going on. Too much deus ex machina to me, that.

One last thing: was it just me, or did anyone else detect a kind of undertone in Rafe and Gabriel's relationship that might suggest they might have been a teeny bit more than friends? A kind of... tenderness, I would call it. Maybe it was just my imagination, who knows...

The only sad part about having read this book is discovering, at Mrs. Giggles', that Taylor Chase doesn't have a contract to publish more books. Well, at least I can look for her backlist!

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