>> Saturday, October 31, 2009
TITLE: The Lily Brand
AUTHOR: Sandra Schwab
SETTING: Early 19th century France and England
TYPE: Straight romance
REASON FOR READING: It's been on my TBR for ages, and I've only now been in the mood for it.
Troy Sacheverell, fifth Earl of Ravenhurst, was captured in France. He'd gone to fight Napoleon, but what he found was much more sinister. Dragged from prison to an old French manor on the outskirts of civilization, he was purchased by a rich and twisted widow. But more dangerous still was the young beauty who claimed him as hers.I closed the book with regret for the wasted potential. It was all right. It could have been great, but it wasn't.
Lillian wished to flee Camille, her stepmother, but none escaped the Black Widow's web. And on her nineteenth birthday, Lillian became Camille's heir. Her gift was a plaything: a man to end her naiveté, a man perfect in all ways but his stolen freedom. Reluctantly Lillian did as she was told, marked that beautiful flesh and branded it with the flower of her name. As she did, she saw there was no place to run. No matter if she should flee, no matter where she might go, she and this man were prisoners of passion, inextricably joined by THE LILY BRAND.
The setup was fantastic. Troy Sacheverell has been in a hellhole of a French prison for some time before the Black Widow pays a visit. As bad as the prison is, the rumours about what happens to the men taken away by this woman are worse. But Troy refuses to bow and scrape and hide, and his defiance draws her attention to him. Troy is taken away to a remote manor to be subject to humiliating torture, but it turns out that the evil Black Widow doesn't want him for herself, but for her heiress.
Lillian has been under her stepmother Camille's control since her father died, and the Black Widow is determined to make her in her own sadistic image. The new slave she's procured from the prison is to be broken by Lillian and then shaped in the same mold as the many other slaves Camille has serving her. Under Camille's careful observation, Lillian gives the appearance of obeying her orders, even to the point of leading the slave round the manor on a leash like a dog and branding him with her mark (the lily brand of the title).
But Lillian and her old nurse have set escape plans in motion, and these come to a point not too long after the slave's arrival. And rather than being sensible and just leaving the man there to die, Lillian puts herself at risk and takes him with her, leaving him behind only when he's got a fair chance to save himself.
Lillian's escape is successful. She reaches England and takes refuge with her grandfather, a marquess. Several years later (it wasn't completely clear to me, from the dates it looks like 8 years, but it feels like much less from some things about the action), Lillian is a young lady like any other enjoying the Season and being courted by a harmless young man. A young man, however, who happens to be Troy Sacheverell's cousin.
When Troy recognises his cousin's almost-fiancee as his torturer, all he can think of is revenge. So he engineers things so that she has to marry him and is at his mercy.
Like I said, the book starts out great. The scenes in the French manor had me turning the pages. They were dark and very harrowing, but just keeping on the right side of the line dividing angsty and way too much. And then when Troy and Lillian meet again in London, I couldn't wait how they would finally, finally! deal with each other and fall in love and begin to heal. The setup promised a satisfyingly angsty romance.
But then, nothing. By that I mean, no romance, not for ages. They get married, and obviously Troy feels nothing but hate for Lillian. Everytime he sees her he can't help but remember being humiliated and hurt, so he avoids her. And avoids her and avoids her, and so they don't interact at all for most of the middle section of the book really. They only talk a tiny little bit when Troy realises Lillian was as much of a victim as he was.
And that is yet another thing. This realisation of Troy's feels very anticlimactic. It doesn't come from him coming to know his wife and there's no big dramatic scene where the penny finally drops. The one scene that might have qualified happens after Troy has had his revelation, and is pretty understated, for the horrors Lillian actually suffered. No big emotional scene, and so, no payoff for this reader for all the pain in the first bit.
Even after that happens and Troy realises Lillian is not evil, the action is more focused on them dealing with the danger from Camille for good (and that was over-the-top and way too much, by the way, slipping into melodrama), rather than on any romance. By the end of the book, I didn't feel these two people knew each other at all. They shared a very painful past and had both been victims of the same woman. Other than that? I've no idea if they would suit. Disappointing, really.
MY GRADE: I'm wavering between a B- and a C+. For the story, I'd go with the latter, but I'm thinking the writing was too beautiful for that, so I'll rate it a B-.