My memory of this book was only that it was fine--and my original Goodreads rating of three stars supports that. However, upon re-reading this time and thinking about my trio of rating criteria more closely, I actually like this book a lot. It's probably the best in the series thus far (though The Lady Chosen remains a very close second).
The romance here is the best in the series, and the characters are probably the most interesting and defined. I may not totally love the subplot with Clarice's family (and we'll talk about it more detail), but it's richly written and only plays a small role in the overall larger story.
We're still tracking Dalziel's final traitor, and he shows up again--we even start getting pieces of his background. I'm relieved to say that four books into this series proper, I'm not remotely annoyed by Dalziel yet, and I'll be interested to see how closely his portrayal as a supporting character reflects his main character in the last book.
The Bastion Club members, other than Jack Warnefleet, are Paignton and Dearne (Jocelyn and Christian) whose books are both 5 & 7 respectively. Neither of them stand out yet -- they're Laurens heroes, so they won't. They play a good role, however, and their presence doesn't distract me enough to think I won't like their books. Clarice's brothers, however, are actually irritating and I'm glad they don't show up more than sparingly.
The plot is good, the romance is good, the characters are good -- there are only a few things that keep this story from being a five-star and we'll get into it in the spoilers.
Let me get my specific critiques out of the way because I very much want to talk about how good this romance is.
I don't like the subplot of Clarice's brothers being dominated by their stepmother. I like the setup, but there's no power in the execution. Moira simply disappears from the pages--Alton sends her away, and while Clarice suspects Moira is behind a kidnapping attempt, there's no follow up. No resolution. Her brothers end up engaged, but I don't really root for the couples. I don't find the brothers interesting, and I'm not really invested in their success.
But Clarice is, and I like her, so fine. But this really makes the book drag a bit in the second half because I am never at all interested in her idiot family. I wish that James had played a larger role or that I had gotten a better sense of him since Clarice and Jack were working so hard to exonerate him.
That being said, let's get into why this romance is better than the others thus far in the series (and what puts it above The Lady Chosen).
For the first 150 pages, we don't really get into the traitor plot. Our inciting incident is Jack and Clarice meeting after an accident fells a man who ends up being key to the plot getting going, and Clarice suspects someone tried to murder him. But while the victim is unconscious, our two leads get to know each other.
Clarice is more than just Lauren's usual strong female character--she actually has flaws that put her in opposition to Jack at first. She leaps to conclusions about him, shares her conclusions with him, and then...when she realizes she's wrong, immediately apologizes. It's kind of nice, and it's a sign that her inner strength, confidence, and haughtiness isn't from a sense of superiority that means she can't ever be wrong. It just seems she's okay enough to admit when she is. I like that about her.
And what I love about Jack is that Clarice's strength is boon. She can be stubborn and resistant, but it actually turns out to be the quality which he loves most. He gives her the nickname of Boadicea and often refers to her as a warrior-queen. In a world in which women like Clarice are still (even today!) called bitches for commanding such a presence and attitude, I love that Jack prizes that about her.
And the usual romantic conflict is actually resolved relatively early. They're both strong, commanding people. In Jack's absence while serving in the wars, Clarice has naturally stepped into some positions of power--people in his home village come to her, and he resents that when he comes home. It's not really her that he's angry with, but Jack returns to Avening seeking home, comfort, and routine, and Clarice disrupts that.
They quarrel slightly, but quickly Jack acknowledges her strength and intelligence, and then enlists her help. They start an affair--and it's not until after the affair begins that they both realize their feelings on marriage begin to change. Jack had actually sworn off marriage, and Clarice had had several bad interactions in her youth.
Jack gets there first, and spends some time trying to figure out how to win her--but he knows it's not really about changing her mind. It's getting Clarice to even consider the subject in the first place. He mostly sits back as they work together to exonerate her cousin and his friend of treason charges.
There's a moment where they're caught in a compromising position and he feels compelled to offer marriage. She turns him down, and then he doesn't get angry. He gets it. Neither of them want to get married that way, and Jack, never for a minute, thinks that it's a sign she doesn't care for him. I love that! It's so often told the other way, and I love that Jack is written as more emotionally intelligent than that.
It might make you think there's no drama, but it just means that these two people know each other so well that they're not going to have stupid arguments, which, my God, makes me so deliriously happy. I love this romance. I can't say it enough. This is a realllly good, y'all. I don't think I ever realized how well this one was written. Ha, even writing about it as made me want to give the romance the full five stars.
A Fine Passion
Overall Response My memory of this book was only that it was fine--and my original Goodreads rating of three stars supports that. However, upon re-reading this time and thinking about my trio ...