When I read this book back in 2014, I was relieved because finally, here was the backstory heavily alluded to in The Heir. The Heir is one of my favorite Burrowes books, and I’m really excited to get to it in this reread because I’m finally reading everything in chronological order which means the Douglas and Gwen scenes as well as Westhaven’s relationship with his family, particularly his father, is going to be that much more rich and nuanced.
Getting that out of the way, I can’t decide if I like this book. It’s a really good read right up until the end where things get…weird. We met Gwen and Douglas in the previous entry, Andrew. Gwen is the unmarried cousin of Andrew and Gareth Alexander who was apparently able to hide her illegitimate daughter, Rose, from the rest of her family for four years. Douglas is the survivor of the Allen family in Andrew, middle son sandwiched between shitty Herbert and crazy murderer Henry. Douglas is trying to get himself back together after the events of that book and asks Gwen for assistance with an estate purchase since she has made her own estate relatively profitable.
Douglas is a beta hero—with the exception of one scene that I’m not really all that fond of at the end—who doesn’t really take over the story or push Gwen (even when maybe he should). He’s also in the midst of a low-grade depression, thinking that he doesn’t deserve Gwen or really anything nice. Normally this kind of wallowing drives me nuts, but it’s been maybe a year or so since he learned that his youngest brother murdered their elder brother and father, and the elder brother was a giant asshole who stole from his wife’s widow’s portion and beggared the family. He doesn’t feel that awesome about his DNA and it’s hard to blame him.
Gwen is a bit more difficult to pin down — in the previous book as well as for a lot of this book, the men in her family (Andrew, Gareth and their brother-in-law and future hero, David) assume that her reticence to bring Rose or herself into the world means she must have been raped. No one asks her because it’s just not the thing to do at this point. Even Douglas assumes this. I think it’s important to remind myself that Gwen literally never says this to any of them at any point because it helps me kind of understand some of the things that happen later. She never tells any of them outright exactly what happened or tells them it was rape.
For the most part, my feelings about this book is that it's a lot like the last two books — it has a relatively sweet and believable romance, but the other part of the plot is less great. I mean, it’s serviceable and does what it needs to do. In many ways, this book is doing a lot of heavy lifting. Not only are we preparing for David to get his own book (after appearing in all three books thus far), but it also introduces Loris Tanner, who will come back as a heroine in another series entirely, and introduces the Windham family with whom we will spend about eight or nine books with. Considering everything this book does for the universe, it’s actually pretty good.
My big problem with this book is Victor Windham and pretty much everything that happens after the Windhams are introduced. Having already read The Courtship and The Duke and His Duchess for this project, this is the first time it’s clear that this book was written first and before Grace Burrowes had spent eight books with Percy Windham, Duke of Moreland. Because this is not the Percy we meet in those novellas.
Did Victor rape Gwen? I mean, by modern standards…yes? It’s hard to tell. By the time Gwen tells the story maybe halfway through the book, she states that she willingly eloped with Victor and was interested in consummating the marriage until Victor literally shoved her over a chair, flipped her over a chair, and then…for her first time, had sex with her from behind. Gwen says she was willing at first, and then…it was just over. So did she ever say no? Did Victor know she was saying no?
I think this is where we get into some gray area when we say — well, these things were different then. Expectations were different. Gwen probably doesn’t protest because she’s likely been brought up not to say no. She later tells Victor he all but raped her, but I think this is a realization she comes to later after having been with Douglas and seeing how it should have been. It wasn’t technically rape, but the way Gwen felt about it afterward is basically the same which should put it on the side of -- Gwen was the victim of rape.
But Victor is dying of consumption, so Gwen decides to forgive him and tell him about Rose. Victor says he already knew he was dying, he was angry about it, and Gwen was his attempt at living life. And somehow this translates into how horribly he treated her on their elopement. I guess I kind of buy it, but I think Gwen is much too nice to him. Probably because he is literally weeks from death.
But she’s kept Rose from Victor and the Windhams for all these years in part because she feared she was legally married to Victor and the “old school” Duke would basically take her daughter from her. I get why she told Victor, but I guess I’m just not sure how to take all of this. She doesn’t tell her family Moreland threatened her, and then Westhaven, Victor’s older brother and the ducal heir, gets kind of weird when they’re talking about their proposed marriage (he comes on to her in a way that just feels completely out of character for the Westhaven we get literally in the rest of the universe and even in the book thus far).
And then Gwen very nearly marries Westhaven because Moreland has threatened to spread nasty rumors about literally everyone she loves and Douglas almost can’t do anything because his mother is dying elsewhere and he needs to be with her. But…the wedding is basically stopped because Douglas shows up with a sword, tells Moreland that Gwen could be pregnant with his kid and finally someone stops to tell Esther that her husband has threatened Gwen.
The fact that Moreland backs down about the wedding when his wife basically smacks him around is what doesn’t work for me. Because, ostensibly, Westhaven should have known his mother had that kind of control over him. He agreed to propose in order to get power of attorney over the ducal finances, not realizing Gwen had been threatened into accepting should Westhaven propose.
But I kind of think Westhaven should have involved Esther much earlier. I think we’re supposed to be charmed by how much Moreland loves his wife and would do anything for her, but I guess it’s hard to buy it based on just how incredibly awful he is to Gwen in this book. Like…ridiculously villainous. These two parts of his character don’t match and they really don’t match The Courtship and The Duke and His Duchess.
I know they were written at different times, but it’s like Burrowes had forgotten just how awful Moreland was in this book and in The Heir or she’d grown to love him enough to assume her audience probably wouldn’t blink at the difference—or realize it since technically, Douglas is in a different series than The Heir and the novellas. I don’t know. The last third of the book is really not great and kind of drags down the whole thing. I was in four or five star territory until that point.
Douglas: Lord of Heartache
Overall When I read this book back in 2014, I was relieved because finally, here was the backstory heavily alluded to in The Heir. The Heir is one of my favorite Burrowes books, and I’m really ...