Passion and angst seethe in equal measure from the tortured hero of Lisa Kleypas’s latest historical. Kev Merripen is a gypsy taken in by the generous and loving Hathaway family when his own tribe left him for dead. Feral, miserable, sullen and instinctively violent, the only light in Kev’s black existence is the beautiful and angelic Winnifred Hathaway. Despite the strong connection between them, Kev is determined to keep their relationship platonic, for Winifred is an invalid. Moreover, Kev hates himself (no low-born Kleypas hero thinks he’s good enough for the pure-bred Kleypas heroine…) and doesn’t consider himself worthy of Win.
Of course, Winifred is equally in love with Kev, and so she resolves to get better and win him over. The story takes off when Winifred returns from a two-year sojourn in a French clinic, restored to rude health and towing with her a handsome and admiring doctor…
For all that Kev Merripen is a larger than life, angst-ridden hero very much in the mould of Heathcliff, for me, Winifred is the standout character. Despite her delicate frame, fragility and ‘purity of character’– this girl is a total minx. In the first chapter alone she has maneovered Kev into kissing her and then – seconds later – she’s groping his man-bits like a seasoned pro. Honestly, at times, it’s as though Kev is the delicate virgin.
With such a decisive, take-charge heroine and a completely bonkers (though endearingly so) hero, there’s plenty to like here. Let’s say, 85% of this book is excellent and deserves praise for it’s relatively fresh storyline (it’s unusual, I think, in a romance when both characters are completely and intensely in love right from the beginning). On top of that Kleypas is amusing and deft with her plotting - I read this book in one sitting.
So, naturally, I’m just going to concentrate on the negatives.
Once in a lifetime love…
For this story to really work, we have to believe that Kev and Winifred are soulmates – connected powerfully, almost preternaturally. Their passion must be surpassing; one cannot live without the other. This is done wonderfully by Kleypas – when Win is close to death, Kev is pretty much on the brink of ending his own existence, Romeo and Juliet style (see: bonkers). They are both given to grand declarations –
“I love you,” she said, wretchedly. “And if I were well, no power on earth could keep me away from you. If I were well, I would take you into my bed, and I would show you as much passion as any woman could -”
He jerked her upward. “All the fires of hell could burn for a thousand years and it wouldn’t equal what I feel for you in one minute of the day. I love you so much there is no pleasure in it. Nothing but torment."
When they kiss and mess around, it’s suitably hot and theatrical. But the effect is diluted considerably by the fact that there are at least four other couples who feel exactly the same way. How are we supposed to believe in the rabid, all-consuming, once-in-a-lifetime, Heathcliff-on-the-moors type love when everyone’s at it? It becomes a little – yes, pedestrian.
And therein lies my second gripe. The recurring couples from previous novels – AKA the Authorial Cash Cow.
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’m one of those readers who is quite happy to leave a couple to their happy ever after – no drippy epilogue for me, thank you. I’ve enjoyed the journey, but I’m happy to get off the train once everything is neatly tied up. So it’s endlessly boring for me when characters from previous books turn up blissfully in love, often swelling with child, sharing tender looks and having (totally boring) sex, and generally chewing up the scenery – because here’s the thing: I don’t care. You’re married, you’re happy, you’re boring. Where’s the drama? Where’s the tension, where’s the story progression?
At best, it’s indulgent. At worst, it’s cynical.
I’m talking to you, SEP, Laurens, Kleypas, Balogh and [insert culprit of your choice].
The only time I would be interested if there was trouble in paradise.
Or is it just me?
Anyway, a B+ and a thank you to Ms Kleypas for such a pleasant first step back into romance.