TBR Day. The Soldier / Grace Burrowes. 2011
This month's TBR theme is something erotic or steamy. I don't have anything specifically like that in my collection. However this one has a fair share of heat, so hopefully it qualifies.
Grace Burrowes is a new author and The Soldier is her second book. I read her debut, The Heir, last January and liked it well enough to pre-order this for my Kindle. It was released in June. Obviously it hasn't been waiting to be read very long, but I was in the mood to try it, so here it is.
This is going to be a strange review. As I look back there was a lot in this book that bothered me. But while I was reading it, I genuinely enjoyed the experience. I think Burrowes does a great job with her characterizations and her prose. This is a character-driven story without much external conflict and I do enjoy books of this nature. I had a hard time putting it down and stayed up late the other night to finish it.
The book has three main characters, and they were all born out of wedlock: Devlin St. Just, the hero; Emmie Farnum, a young woman who lives on a neighboring property; and 7-year old Winnie who is Emmie's relative and was fathered by the previous owner of Devlin's estate.
Much is made of Devlin's situation. At the age of 5 his mother had turned him over to his father, a powerful Duke, and asked the Duke and Duchess to raise him as they'd be able to give him a better life than she could. It's actually a poignant story and I loved the way it's told throughout the book and how it affected the relationship Devlin has with his father, the Duchess, and his half-siblings. It struck me as totally realistic that a child brought into that sort of situation would feel both abandoned and on the outside looking in, no matter how much his new family might love him. Devlin spends the book dealing with his family as well as wrestling the demons from his many years of military service fighting Napoleon and the French.
Devlin has recently been made the 1st Earl of Rosecroft and the title comes with a run-down estate that had previously been owned by a dissolute earl who died without an heir. Emmie and Winnie live quietly nearby. Emmie bakes for a living; she sells her wares to the local villagers, but otherwise rarely interacts with them. She's a social outcast and as a result, rather lonely. Her cousin Winnie was fathered by that dead, dissolute earl and for some strange reason Winnie is treated as part of the estate that Devlin is awarded. This is where the logic of the book begins to fall apart. Emmie seems to have an expectation that Winnie, as the bastard daughter of an earl, somehow deserves a better life than what she'd have if she stayed with Emmie. And she wants to give Winnie over to Devlin to provide that life. Now why would Devlin be in any way obligated to do this? Given the social mores of the time, why would Emmie expect special treatment for Winnie? It just didn't ring true and that bothered me.
There's one other thing that bothered me a lot. Emmie is portrayed as a loving, nurturing woman, and she does a great deal to help Devlin heal from his experiences in the war. She encourages him to open up and listens to him as he tells her things he hasn't been able to talk about before. They fall in love, but Emmie is unwilling to trust in Devlin the way he has trusted in her. She hangs on to her secrets and makes preparations to leave the area, despite Winnie's and Devlin's pleas that she stay. At first I can understand her reluctance. One doesn't hang on to things for years and years only to give them up at the drop of a hat. But it goes on and on to the point that when Emmie finally changes her mind and decides to stay with Devlin and Winnie, it's practically the last page of the book. Both me, the reader, and Devlin had figured out Emmie's secrets long before she was willing to give them up. When she finally does so, it's the very end of the book. This creates a rather abrupt ending and I wanted a longer emotional payoff after all that dithering.
Frankly, as nicely as Burrowes writes, there's still an anachronistic feel to the language and attitudes in both of her books. Other online reviewers have commented on this, and I'm not going to rehash it here. Ultimately I think Burrowes shows wonderful promise as a writer and I'm already looking forward to her next book. Meanwhile I offer only a limited recommendation -- this book has a great hero who carries the story and is worth reading about. Unfortunately he comes with a less-likeable heroine and a precocious 7-year old which may be enough for some readers to say no thanks.