Claiming the Courtesan, by Anna Campbell

>> Monday, April 30, 2007

I read the review of Claiming the Courtesan, by Anna Campbell at AAR and thought "no way, just not my thing". But then everyone was talking about it, and some people who's opinion I trust insisted that it just wasn't the throwback to the bodice-ripper era that the plot seemed to suggest, so I gave in to curiosity and decided to make up my own mind about it.

He would marry her, and possess her in every way possible.

The Duke of Kylemore knows her as Soraya, London’s most celebrated courtesan. Men fight duels to spend an hour in her company. And only he comes close to taming her. Flying in the face of society, he decides to make her his bride; then, she vanishes, seemingly into thin air.

Dire circumstances have forced Verity Ashton to barter her innocence and change her name for the sake of her family. But Kylemore destroys her plans for a respectable life when he discovers her safe haven. He kidnaps her, sweeping her away to his isolated hunting lodge in Scotland, where he vows to bend her to his will.

There he seduces her anew. Verity spends night after night in his bed… and though she still plans her escape, she knows she can never flee the unexpected, unwelcome love for the proud, powerful lover who claims her both body and soul.
Do I really need to do a plot summary after all the discussions? Just a short one, in case someone comes back to read this in a few months.

Verity Ashton has been the Duke of Kylemore's mistress for a year, under the identity of her alter ego, Soraya, the famous courtesan. The original arrangement had been for one year, after which if either party wanted to dissolve their association, they were free to do so. And when the year is up, Verity does, disappearing into thin air.

But Kylemore isn't ready to accept what he sees as an enormous betrayal, and decides to get Soraya back and make her pay for the suffering she's put him through. He finds her posing as a widow in small Yorkshire town and kidnaps her, taking her to his remote hunting lodge in Scotland, where he'll do anything he wants to her.

So, did I like it? As a romance novel, no. For me to enjoy a romance, I want to like the HEA, and what we got here wasn't my idea of one. A HEA in this book would have involved Justin being castrated with a rusty knife after Verity told him to take a flying leap into hell and that she'd only been pretending to love him all along.

Which is, strangely enough, why I liked the first half much, much better than the second.

See, maybe I'm twisted, but the first half totally worked for me, because I was reading it as a portrayal of a psycho in the grip of a powerful obsession. As such, it was excellent. Everything came together, the writing, the dialogue, the setting, the characters. I couldn't stop turning the pages, and I got tons of emotional pay-off, whenever Justin would feel wretched because Verity so obviously hated him (as well she should).

But the turning point came when the book got all romancey. When? Justin has a nightmare and Verity gives in to her inner nurturer, after which Justin starts getting what he wants. Poor Justin, he had a bad childhood, so apparently all is forgiven. And things go downhill from there, with an evil mother (really, really eeeee-vil mother) and Verity playing the I'm-not-good-enough-for-you martyr. Bah!

It's hard to encapsulate such mixed feelings in a single grade. I'll go with a C+, not as a mark of a blah book, as C grades often are, but as an average between the very high grade the first half deserves and the very low one I'd rate the second.

Oh, and about the bodice-ripper accusation? IMO, this book isn't one, even if a couple of bodices do literally get ripped. CTC is a much more thoughtful book than that. I see a huge difference between the old crap, in which I got the feeling that the author herself was endorsing the rapist "hero"'s actions as "just what real men do. And she likes it, anyway, even though she says no", and this one. It was always perfectly clear to me that Campbell was writing Justin's actions as being completely wrong.

Plus, most of the bodice-rippers I read had really cardboard characters. These two definitely weren't that. Their motivations rang true and they were fully-realized characters, even if one of them was a fully-realized lunatic character!


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