Mastered by Love, by Stephanie Laurens

>> Sunday, October 11, 2009

TITLE: Mastered by Love
AUTHOR: Stephanie Laurens

PAGES: 480

SETTING: England post Napoleonic Wars
TYPE: Straight romance
SERIES: 8th and last in the Bastion Club, 9th if you count the horrendous Captain Jack's Woman as the first in the series.

REASON FOR READING: I haven't read Laurens in ages... I loved the first 6 or so in her Cynster series, but found the ones after that really mediocre and repetitive, so I stopped reading her. I wouldn't have picked this one up if it wasn't for the AAR review. The reviewer hadn't read any of the previous Bastion Club books and really enjoyed the book, so I wondered if I'd feel the same.

The men of the Bastion Club proved their bravery secretly fighting for their country. Now their leader faces that most dangerous mission of all: finding a bride.

As the mysterious leader of the Bastion Club known as "Dalziel," Royce Varisey, tenth Duke of Wolverstone, served his country for decades, facing dangers untold. But as the holder of one of England's most august noble titles, he must now take on that gravest duty of all: marriage.

Yet the young ladies the grand dames would have him consider are predictably boring. Far more tempting is his castle's willful and determinedly aloof chatelaine, Minerva Chesterton. Beneath her serene faƇade lies a woman of smoldering sensuality, one who will fill his days with comfort and his nights with sheer pleasure. Determined to claim her, he embarks on a seduction to prove his mastery over every inch of her body . . . and every piece of her heart.
Well, I don't know if Mastered By Love was a lot better than those last books I read, or if it was the hiatus that made the difference, but I quite enjoyed it. Probably a combination of the two things.

The war is over and master spymaster (hee!) Royce Varisey is going back home. His father, the late Duke of Wolverstone, who'd exiled Royce when he decided his duty was to serve his country during the war, is now dead, so Royce is also taking over the dukedom.

This is not an easy thing to do, especially for someone who's been away and a bit isolated from society for such a long time, and so the help of the castle's chatelaine, Minerva Chesterton, is invaluable. Minerva knows everything there is to know about the castle and the estate, the people and any potential undercurrents, and works closely with Royce to help him avoid any pitfalls.

What Minerva isn't is the slightest attracted to Royce, which is unfortunate, because his first reaction to her was extremely strong attraction, and it only gets stronger as they spend more time together. Or at least, that's what Royce thinks. Unbeknownst to him, Minerva has had a crush on him for years, and is working very hard to hide it.

When a threat to his title makes it necessary for Royce to marry as soon as possible (and this threat was tolerably believable and un-hokey, I must say), Minerva isn't the first obvious candidate, but he quickly comes to realise there's no one else he wants in the post.

The fact that I liked MLB is all about the characters and their relationship, mostly their relationship. I really liked the way it started, was very intrigued by how Royce was almost violently attracted to Minerva, all the while being completely certain that she didn't fancy him at all.

I think what I liked so much about that (apart from the tension it created and the fact that I'm a bit of a sadist, who loves to see romance heroes suffer) was that it establishes Royce as very much human. There's no denying he's an alpha hero, but he doesn't have supernatural powers to sniff out when a woman is attracted to him, as so many of them seem to have. He can be wrong, and that makes him a much more interesting hero.

Also, Minerva is not powerless when it comes to Royce. Yes, there was a bit too much of her melting and losing all resistance whenever he touched her, but in the more important decision, whether she would marry a man she loved but was convinced would never make her happy, she was a lot firmer. She changed her mind obviously (we do need a HEA, after all), but not because of being steamrolled by Royce into it, but rationally, because she saw that she had made a wrong assumption.

That was a VERY good thing, because that assumption was driving me insane. See, according to everyone, including Minerva, Varisey males behave in very narrowly defined ways. For a while, at least, it was, ad nauseam, all Varisey males do this, Varisey males don't do that, Varisey males do not love and when they marry, they and their wives go their separate ways. Knowing that she's halfway in love with Royce already, Minerva doesn't want to have such a marriage, and yeah, if you believe it's inevitable that if she marries Royce, he'll never love her and end up cheating on her, it makes sense. I found the genetic determinism quite depressing (not that they'd call it that, of course).

Fortunately, Royce doesn't seem to be as wedded to the idea that his every action needs to echo those of his ancestors, and some of the nicer scenes in the book involved him realising that he can forge his own path, both in managing the dukedom and in his personal life. He has a group of friends, all of whom have married women they care about and with whom they have happy marriages, and Royce is not idiot. He sees his friends are happy, and he wants that for himself as well. And that means convincing Minerva that her fears are unfounded, because she really is the only woman he thinks he might have a chance of loving.

I just loved the way Royce's feelings for Minerva were developed. He knows she will be the perfect partner for him, someone with whom he can share the huge responsibility of running his estates and caring for his people. He admires her and respects her for that, but that's not the whole extent of his feelings. He desires her from the start, but it's soon much more than that. There's a very poignant scene where they're just lying there after sex and he thinks about how he's feeling completely peace and joy just by being with her. It's clear Royce has never even come close to feeling what he feels with Minerva, but thank heavens, Laurens does it without needing to portray Royce as having derision for previous partners.

It's not a perfect book, though. The pace is veeeery slow, and it's not helped by the numerous and lengthy love scenes. Quite a few actually added to the development of the relationship, but as the book progressed, they started feeling a bit gratuituous. Adding to the slow pace is the fact that everyday estate matters and Royce's familiarisation with them take up more than a few pages. It's interesting enough stuff, but slowed down the action considerably.

This was mostly a character-driven book, but it was unfortunate that what suspense there was was very poorly done. It was extremely blah, and could have been done away with altogether. It seemed to be a leftover from previous books in the series, and since I haven't read those, I had very little interest in who the "infamous last traitor" (I almost feel as if I should capitalise Last Traitor) was. Plus, this person just lurks round throughout most of the book, creating very little sense of danger or anything of the sort. He suddenly comes to the forefront at the end, for what felt solely like a perfunctory fulfilment of the "at some point the heroine must be in mortal danger" rule I suspect some editors must insist on.

Oh, well, even though it took me a while to read, I did enjoy the experience. I might come back to Laurens, still!

MY GRADE: Wavering between a B- and a B, but I loved some of the moments in the book enough that I'll go for a B.


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