Saturday, March 15, 2008
Claiming the Courtesan, by Anna Campbell
This author is amazing!
Campbell's second novel, Untouched, was reviewed by Donna a few weeks ago, which led me to this one, happily. A word of caution, however, this book contains some questionable, forceful scenes that some may not like (not to mention some bodice ripping). It's edgier than most romance novels, so keep that in mind while reading.
Our story is of Verity, and her alter ego, the alluring courtesan, Soraya, and begins in London, in bed with the Duke of Kylemore, her lover and paramour of one year. Kylemore, who was after her for five years, is a cold man with a tortured past (literally) and an unbearable mother. Despite all this, he is a respected member of society and the ton. He paid dearly for Soraya; a house in her name, clothes, jewelry...all the expenses of keeping a mistress well heeled and in the height of fashion. But, he knows nothing of her, except she is the most sought after courtesan in London; duels were fought in her name, many a man would die to win her favor. Theirs was a business agreement, with little emotion attached.
Verity is a former farm girl from Yorkshire, having lost her parents and becoming a servant, she is forced at the tender age of fifteen to become mistress to an older Lord for his protection and well-being of her brother and sister. He turns into the jewel she becomes, and parades her around London for all to see and envy, including Kylemore, whom she claims to have the slightest interest. Their one year agreement is satisfactory to both, until one day Verity decides it is time to leave and begin her life as a chaste widow elsewhere, away from London and her life as a courtesan. Leaving without warning is the only way she can, along with an uncharacteristic kiss to her lover as he departs, unknowingly for the final time.
And then, the story gets intense.
Kylemore is outraged at Soraya leaving without so much as a word in farewell. He spends three months combing the country looking for her, and finally finds her in the wilds of Yorkshire, where he abducts her to teach her a lesson. What follows is an emotional roller coaster, for characters and the reader. Kylemore was not prepared for the real Verity, the one that was kept hidden under the alluring mask of Soraya. His arrogance leads him to believe he can break her spirit by keeping her prisoner to his lust, but he is completely mistaken. What happens next is a heart-wrenching story of guilt, mistrust, anger and finally love. Both characters go through a painful transformation before coming to realize they are perfect for each other.
And that's all I'll say about the story without spoiling it completely! I want you to read it word for word like I did, and get lost in the emotions that Anna Campbell writes so well. I cried through several scenes of this book, my heart aching for Verity during her imprisonment, and for Kylemore, who has his own demons. It is beautifully written without a lot of descriptive narrative that tends to run amok in some romance novels. The passion between Verity and Kylemore is perfectly balanced with the fear they both experience for their own reasons. The story is full of raw emotion that will leave you drained, but satisfied in the end, I hope.
As a gothic novel lover, as well as a romance novel lover, I was very happy to see some dark aspects in this book, although not too dark for the faint at heart. (see the warning above) To me, this is a different breed of romance novel writing; it still has the dark hero and somewhat helpless heroine, but the story is intense and moving. This is the kind of book that I can go back and read again and again, never tiring of the story.