I was so excited to get to this book--it's always been one of my favorite romance novels because it takes place over a longer period of time. A lot of novels, particularly in the last decade or so, tend to take place over a couple of weeks but rarely span longer than a month, maybe two. This novel is probably at least six months, if not more, and it really allows the romance and characters to develop.
The plot is a bit of a misdirect--Sophia's desire for revenge is really more of an inciting incident and it doesn't take her long to start rethinking her opinion of Ross and the actual plot kind of meanders a bit. That's not a bad thing because if Sophia stuck to her original plan I feel like that would have caused the story to drag.
The characters are great -- Ross was a good supporting character in Someone to Watch Over Me, and he remains solid here. He's a principled man of honor and it's fascinating to watch him apply his own vision of justice. Sophia is a great lead -- I like that she does revise her opinion and plows her own path, even if she's occasionally quick to jump to conclusions.
The romance is good and develops well. I like that Ross never seems to shy away from his feelings for Sophia but I could have done without her former lover or Ross's brother. I know they were there to provide a contrast to Ross, but it did get annoying having Sophia blackmailed and propositioned at ever turn.
I have to admit that I was nervous when I put this series on my summer reading list because while I've read the other two books in this trilogy several times, I can only remember rereading this book maybe twice since the first time I read it in 2004. It didn't stick with me as well as the rest of the series.
I'm happy to say that while I still like the other two books better, this is by no means a weak story. The aspects about the plot that I was worried about -- Grant's so-called revenge -- was actually handled better than I had remembered. While the romance is a bit more superficial than I typically like, it's still pretty good.
I actually liked the journey Lisa Kleypas took Grant on -- he's a very hard character in the beginning and "Vivienne" does kind of force him to re-examine himself. Given his origin story, I can understand why he is the way he is, but I guess maybe I wish he'd been punished a bit longer.
The plot is fine -- it's a standard mystery but it's never really the focus. It's always about Grant and his confusion that Vivienne isn't acting the way he'd expected her, too.
Still, this is a good introduction to one of my favorite trilogies -- I love Bow Street Runners, and Sir Ross's book is ridiculously good (at least I remember it being good). While this book doesn't have the depth in the plot, characters, or romance that the rest of the series does, this is a good book. I really like Grant and "Vivienne" and was happy for them to get their happy ending.
As I was reading this, I wondered if writing about Royce and the duchy of Wolverstone is one of the reasons Stephanie Laurens decided to write her lone medieval story, Desire's Prize. They were released four years apart (2009, 2013) but there's a striking similarity between Royce & Minerva and Montisfryn & Elaine. He's a marcher lord, and she ends up under his care to take up role of chatelaine. I actually really liked Desire's Prize, and I hope Laurens writes more of them. Her brand of hero and heroine are very well suited to medieval romances, and I am a huge sucker for that sub-genre.
Anyway, this is the last book in the Bastion Club series and wraps up the through-line of the last traitor created in Book 2, A Gentleman's Honor. There's a lot I like about the final resolution to that plot line, but I also think that it would have benefited from spending just a little more time with the villain. I think Laurens wanted to keep him a mystery until a certain point, but I think this is the book where he should have had more of a center stage. I liked the identity of the villain and the final resolution to it all -- I just would have liked him to be a bit more present throughout the book.
The other part of the plot revolves around Royce's return to his old life and becoming duke upon the death of his father. He returns home to find the ward his parents raised grown up and functioning as the castle's chatelaine -- which was a medieval term you don't read much about in Regency time. Basically, Minerva is a step above the housekeeper and runs the household -- much like the laird's wife would in a Scottish romance, if that makes sense.
During his father's funeral, Royce is harassed beyond the point of sanity by the society grand dames to take wife because the Prince Regent is eyeing the duchy Royce only just inherited. I mean, they're obnoxious, and Royce is a hell of a lot nicer than I would be.
Of the Bastion Club members, only Christian and Leticia really play a role here. Clarice and Jack show up, but not for long. I think Penny is there, too. Thank God, there's only mentions of Jack Hendon, and Deverell is a distant memory for all of us. It makes me happy. Devil from the Cynster series has a minor supporting role with the running joke that his mother is desperate to marry him off and already using the term of Dowager to encourage him. Royce's sisters show up but there's not much to say about any of that. The supporting cast doesn't really do all that much.
I like both the leads quite a lot. Both are capable, honest, and straightforward. Royce is relatively relatable and remains the steady, arrogant, yet reasonable character we've seen in the last seven books. Minerva is a typical Laurens lead who has a strong head on her shoulders and a clear goal. I particularly liked that Royce deferred to Minerva on estate decisions.
The romance is also very good -- in fact, it's up there with Leticia & Christian (The Edge of Desire) and Jack & Clarice (A Fine Passion). I'll get into the weeds about something specific I loved in the spoiler section, but suffice to say that this romance develops really well and escalates nicely.
This is a solid and satisfying end to a better than I remembered series.
This was always one of my favorite books in the series because I liked the romance and the plot. That remains true though there a few things that kind of jumped out at me in this reread and once I noticed them, they only got more annoying which is why the star is four, not five.
Christian's story actually begins in the epilogue of Beyond Seduction, and there's been some hints of Christian's past (very tiny ones) but the romance been Christian and Leticia is definitely my favorite in the series. They have a history, much like Charles and Penny in A Lady of His Own, but their past is more ably dealt with and actually presents a huge conflict for them to overcome. And I liked that as soon he learned the reason Letitia hadn't waited for him but had married Randall, he immediately took the blame on himself and acknowledged his own failures. He completely let her off the hook which I liked.
When it comes to characters, I still liked them a lot but here's my main problem with Letitia. She's apparently a member of a wild family who have insane tempers, are known for their impulsive nature...and yet, Stephanie Laurens never shows us this behavior. She tells it. Every time we get a "Vaux" tantrum, we don't get any dialogue. She describes it.
And at every turn, the Vaux nature, the Vaux tendency comes back. Over and over again. Stephanie Laurens has always had a piece of description that she tends to beat into the ground (Jack calling Clarice Boadicea or warrior queen) but this was particularly annoying because I was supposed to see Letitia as a certain kind of character and she just never was.
The plot and murder mystery is pretty good, and Dalziel plays into this one a bit more than we've seen before but that makes sense because his book is next. Some of the other reasons (beyond the Vaux nonsense) that this book, despite being really good, doesn't make it to five stars are more spoilery so suffice to say this is the best book in the series thus far, the equal to A Fine Passion, though I think I like Clarice a smidge more than Letitia.
After the travesty of To Distraction, this was a breath of fresh air though that's not a super hard threshold to conquer, is it? God, I still get annoyed by that book.
This entry in the series brings back both Malcolm Sinclair and the recurring "last traitor" plot. I don't really know what Malcolm is doing here -- he seems to have a sort of slightly nefarious plot brewing to get some tinning leases but it fizzles out pretty quick. I know he's in more of Laurens' books -- and he gets his own redemption book but it's hard to see what he adds here.
The plot itself centers around the last traitor though it takes some time for that plot get going. Like To Distraction and A Fine Passion, the romance takes center stage for the first half of the book. Thankfully, this book follows in the footsteps of A Fine Passion because the romance isn't so bad. It's not nearly as good as either Tristan and Leonora and Jack and Clarice, but it's a comfortable in third finish.
The characters are in the mold of the usual Laurens leads and there isn't much to differentiate them from, say, Jack and Clarice. They're all strong-minded people who love their land and their family. The leads and their supporting cast are serviceable but nothing special.
The romance, however, is a bit unique in that Gervase has known Madeline for many years but he's always seen her as an equal, not necessarily as someone who he might be interested in. She's always been in that other box. Once he comes home, he promises his sisters he'll marry the next eligible woman he comes across -- and that turns out to be Madeline. He sets out to see if they're compatible, and once he's decided she is, sets out to convince her.
There are aspects to the romance that I find less than convincing, but they work within the particular world that Stephanie Laurens has constructed for her society. I'll get into them in the weeds.
I think is is an okay entry in the series. It reminds me of A Lady of His Own in that everything does what it's there to do, but nothing really stands out.
I don't even know where to start with this one, y'all. It was so bad. So unbelievably bad. I've read it twice before and literally had no memory of the story I was about to read--and I really think my brain was trying to protect me. I can usually polish these books off in one two hour sitting, maybe over two 90 minute sessions--generally it doesn't take more than a day or two to read this. This one--I've been reading since Sunday. That's FOUR DAYS.
And it's because I kept putting it down. I kept avoiding reading it. I didn't want to finish it. This is bad. This is bad in a way that Captain Jack's Woman was not. That book had George Smeaton and Kit to save it. This...even the bright spot disappears halfway through.
So what's bad? The so-called hero, Deverell, never ever recovers from the first 100 pages. He is awful, he's pushy, and he just never listens to the heroine, Phoebe. She makes it clear beyond a doubt for the first half of the book she has no interest in marriage. She's attracted to him, but she still doesn't want to marry him. And...we'll get into it in the spoilers, but she literally gives him no encouragement. Responding to a kiss he starts is not necessarily the same thing.
Second, the plot? I don't know. I guess it could have been good but it doesn't even really start until page 247 when we meet the villain. This book was only 351 pages long (in my ebook). I don't know percentages, but I should know what's going on long before that. Like A Fine Passion, the romance takes center stage for the first half of the book--but it doesn't work here because these people are not in love. Phoebe is basically a hostage who succumbs to Stockholm Syndrome. By the time there's an actual villain, I'm just...pfft. Not interested.
The characters? Phoebe starts off interesting. She's--at first--not a typical Laurens heroine, and there are aspects to her character that I like. But Deverell is worse than Jack Hendon (Captain Jack). I did not think that was possible because I hate Jack so much I've set him on fire in two reviews. He makes me see red so much that his name was mentioned in this book and I got all irritated. But Deverell is worse. Because he's basically a stalker who thinks he's charming and he gets away with it.
Skip this book. It doesn't add to the overall series -- Dalziel's last traitor is not featured here, and Dalziel is probably the one person who shows up that I like.
I don't really comment on sex scenes because some people like a lot of them, some people don't. I've never really cared much for the steam level--it doesn't make or break my reading if that makes sense. But the story basically stops for a good 50 pages so Deverell can seduce Phoebe repeatedly. Even in other books when that was happening, stuff was still happening in the story. The middle of this book drags in such a way that you will want to set yourself on fire.
There is nothing interesting about this book, and there's no point in reading. Run away. As fast and as far as you can.
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.
So I feel like this book easily could have been four stars, maybe even five if Stephanie Laurens had just pushed the romance a different way. Unlike any of the other couples thus far, Penny and Charles have a history that layers over their present, and I found it more interesting than the typical strangers falling in love. That being said, their past was ambiguous and I don't think it was as strong as it could have been. I'll get into specifics in the spoilers, but it was just a bit disappointing.
Character wise, this is probably the weakest of the three books thus far (we're not speaking of Captain Jack) because Penny and Charles feel like the thinnest of the characters. I don't feel like anything really sets them apart, and the supporting cast doesn't really come up to snuff. Dalziel shows up, and he's fine. He doesn't do anything to annoy me which just as important. But Nicholas and his father aren't really that interesting either. Everyone is just very one dimensional. I know I said I wouldn't hold the fact that Laurens uses the same archetypes for all her character, but so far I've been able to pull out nuances that give the characters some depth. It doesn't feel that way for Penny and Charles.
The plot is, as always, the strongest element of the novel, though even this one is a bit weaker than the last two. Just a little bit. We're searching out for traitors (ultimately hunting Dalziel's final traitor) and the action has moved to Cornwall and to smuggling. Penny is concerned that her brother and father were secretly French spies, so she's sufficiently motivated to find the foes, and Charles has been asked by Dalziel to investigate rumors in the area. Their paths cross, and they work together to find the truth. I think the plot dragged ever so slightly, and Nicholas doesn't do enough to hold it together. The ultimate villain is interesting but he's not around long enough to make an impression.
Overall, this book is just fine. It's an enjoyable read.
In my review of The Lady Chosen, I said that A Gentleman's Honor was my first Stephanie Laurens book, and that I had liked it enough to go to my local library and get a few more books. I think it was actually The Promise in a Kiss, the prequel to the Cynster series that convinced me to invest more heavily in her backlist.
With the passage of maybe fourteen years, do I still like this book enough? If I had read it today, would I see more books by this author? When I went to Goodreads to add a review, I saw that I had rated it as five stars. I've reduced that by two now.
I do still like this book. The strength of the mystery carries it past some of the issues I have with the romance. As always, reviewing and critiquing the leads in a Laurens book is fraught with issues. Anthony Blake is very nearly interchangeable with Tristan Wemyss from The Lady Chosen, though I think I like Tristan a bit more. Though both were reluctant to discuss emotions, Tristan did it more easily and more quickly. And I don't know that Leonora would have put up with nearly as much nonsense as Alicia did. So in that case, I do think there's enough of a difference.
The romance is...fine. I liked it at first because Tony doesn't really ever balk about keeping Alicia in the loop or working with her which is always nice. But Tony does things and takes for granted that Alicia will follow his lead--that she understands where they're going, and I don't ever blame Alicia for not knowing the endgame. I do kind of hold her responsible for not speaking up sooner. I'll go into detail in the spoiler section, but suffice to say -- the romantic conflict after a certain point becomes artificial and once an issue can be solved if your leads just talk about it--then it's really not a conflict.
The plot is good and it gives us the hint of the final traitor we'll be chasing until the last book in the series. Dalziel shows up here more as a stronger lead, though I'm never sure how I feel about him until we get to his book. I like him thus far, and I'm interested in tracking how that goes and how his continual presence affects his book which is the conclusion of the series.
As always, Laurens uses the rest of the Bastion Club sparingly, and this is one of the reasons why I like her work. I've never noticed her putting in characters for the hell of it, even if they're useful. Jack and Kit from Captain Jack's Woman show up, and I notice they're still pissing me off, but they play a good role and I understand why they're there. That's the mark of a good author. Laurens knows how to plot a series and connect it without making the reader kind of want to smack herself repeatedly. (See Mackenzies and McBrides).
This is a good entry into the series for the most part, though the romance is less satisfying than I like, the other elements carry it enough for me to like it.
So part of me really hesitated to put the Bastion Club on my list of series for my rereading project because I knew Captain Jack's Woman was technically the prequel to the series and therefore, under my own rules, I'd have to read it.
I have read this book exactly once. I had just discovered Stephanie Laurens' Cynster novels and liked them enough to start seeking out her backlist. I ordered this book, I read it, and then put it on my shelf. For an idea of what kind of book this is, I show you the cover on my physical copy: I don't think that's Fabio, but that's definitely who they were trying to mimic.
The cover I'm using for this review comes from a rebranding of the entire series -- all the Bastion Club novels have this style. Goodreads tells me it's from a reissue by Avon in 2014, so I guess I'll take their word for it.
But that original cover and its follow up tells you everything you need to know about why this is one of my least favorite books of all time.
But since I plan to spend most of this review ranting, I want to start with what I liked, because I did give it 2 stars and not 1.
George Smeaton is a supporting character and I want to cuddle him. His relationship with Amy, Kit's best friend, has very little time on the page, and may seem old-fashioned, restrictive, and less wild, but it's very clear they respect and love one another, and that their relationship works for them. He is the only male in this entire book I don't want to set on fire. I want to read a book just about George Smeaton. He is the highlight of any scene and when he has a conversation with the hero late in the book, you are active cheering for him because he is the only man with any sense in the whole damn thing.
I also like that Kit never, ever, hides that she is completely insane and impulsive. She is a woman who makes no sense and never attempts to. She's a wild hoyden who is also completely accepted by local society. There's a weird subplot in which she's been lied to and manipulated away by aunts and uncles wanting to use her for their own ends, but it's just to explain why she hasn't been in Norfolk for the last six years. None of it ever remotely relevant or interesting, and is actually...mostly stupid. She falls in with smugglers her first week back and is apparently so good that Jack wants her help in uniting his gang with hers. (We'll...get to that.)
My point is that Kit never hid that she is completely insane and impulsive, and literally, there's nothing about her that Jack actually seems to like. Except her looks. He's a fan of the bosom and the hair. And the eyes. (Kit's got violet eyes, y'all).
So, I like that Kit is crazy AF and that George is a great guy.
Um...that's actually it. That's really all that I like.
There are couple of tropes and issues that I'm not going to criticize. This is a book published in 1997, and without much exception, most of my favorite historical novels from this period and earlier have the same issues. I'm not also not going to judge the strength of the characters. When I do the whole Bastion Club review, I'll remark on it, but it's not something I hold against the books. When you pick up a Stephanie Laurens book, you know exactly what you're getting and shame on you if you keep reading her, expecting something different.
What I am going to criticize is the way this book doesn't hang together. I like smuggling as a trope because it gives you ready-made conflict and possibilities for danger. This plot doesn't make a lot of sense, and by the time I did understand what was happening, I didn't care anymore. Also, even then -- it doesn't make sense. I don't believe Kit would be adopted by a small smuggling ring this way, I don't understand the Captain Jack reference as a backstory and the way it's tossed around like I'm supposed to think it's impressive.
There is no romance in this book worth paying attention to. Jack has the makings of a typical Laurens hero, but he's worse. He's actively a misogynist in a way that Cynsters and later male leads just aren't. He constantly berates Kit and underestimates her because she's a woman. There are more specifics here, but basically Jack knows EXACTLY who Kit is (INSANE AF) and then criticizes her for all those reasons. We'll get into the details in the spoiler section.
So, yeah, Kit is insane and kind of entertaining in her complete lack of maturity and DGAF attitude towards everything, including her own life. She gets neutered by the end, but there's that. And George is lovely. I don't want him for Kit, I wanted a better characterization of Amy. But George loves her, so yay, for George and Amy!