Sunday, August 7

Claiming the Courtesan by Anna Campbell

This book confused me, I won’t lie. There were so many parts of it I loved – and so many parts of it that I wanted to hate, yet couldn’t seem to bring myself to dislike as thoroughly as I had hoped I would be able too. The most notable example of this was the hero. Do not doubt me when I say I really wanted to hate the Duke of Kylemore for how he treated our heroine. Unfortunately (or fortunately, rather), due to Campbell’s excessively exemplary writing skills, I still found myself pitying and rooting for him even as I detested him. Throughout the story I disliked him intensely, yet Campbell made me feel his anguish, his torment, his abject unhappiness with his entire life.  Although that doesn’t excuse his actions in the least – which included a sadistic kidnapping, emotional abuse, and rape (just in case you’re wondering what could make me dislike a hero so thoroughly) – I did feel less intensely about his actions throughout the second half of the book which led me to simply dislike him, rather than hate him with the passion I generally reserve for rapist heroes.

Let me recap the plot, then continue on with more of what I liked and abjectly hated. Verity Ashton, otherwise known as Soraya, became a courtesan at 15 – and is now 28. After taking the Duke of Kylemore as her lover for the past year, she flees London – and him. Hoping to have a normal life as a chaste ‘widow’ living with her brother, she goes to the country, content to a quiet, virtuous life. The enraged Duke, however, was not ready to give up his beautiful Soraya. He tracks her down - then kidnaps her. Taking her to his estate in Scotland, he vows to make her pay for her betrayal (which is an extreme term, most definitely) and all the pain she caused him. Bound hand and foot, Verity has no choice but to sit in his carriage and think on the fate that will meet her upon arriving at one of the Duke’s isolated Scotland estates. And what a terrible, sad, terrifying fate it is. The poor woman.

I loved Verity. She was giving, kind, strong, honest, and very determined. My heart broke again and again for all she’d suffered in life – and continued to suffer throughout the book at the hands of the Duke. Even though the Duke was very, very cruel to her she recognized his brokenness, and helped him. I know I never would’ve been so kind to a man who had brutalized me, so her Christian spirit was admirable, as was her sacrifice. Unfortunately, the love on her end felt more like Stockholm Syndrome (though the hero hadn’t been even remotely kind to her – EVER – so I suppose that can’t be it). However the hero, Kylemore was an abomination. Even towards the end, when he’d clearly changed a lot of his nefarious ways, I didn’t feel his need for forgiveness, or any real remorse over what he’d done to Verity. That was what ruined the book for me – there was no groveling, begging, not even a ‘will you ever forgive me?’-tearful-scene. If there was some unspoken truce, I couldn’t tell. All I could see was him playing brutally with a woman for most of the book without regret then securing her love to feed his obsession. Even as I felt sorry for him, I loathed him for all the terror he put Verity through, seemingly without regret. Rotten childhoods and lust are no excuses for rape, and his behavior was inexcusable. Many people felt that Campbell showed them the true man inside ‘Cold Kylemore’ and that they sympathized with him enough to forgive his transgressions. I couldn’t do that – but you might be able too, in which case the rest of this book is fantastic!

It speaks to Campbell’s extraordinary writing ability that I didn’t despise this book from the minute of the rape to the finish. The plot was excellent, the scenes are gloriously written and suspenseful. I paused several times during the book to admire just how concise, clear, and yet eloquent her syntax was. Up until the very last page I was engrossed in the story, even as I was repulsed by the hero’s behavior. This book is a daring debut, full of Campbell’s beautiful writing style – but not a love story I enjoyed. Rape always bothers me, and will continue to bother me, and it made the hero seem just as crazy-insane-mad as his father had been. This book might still work for you, especially if you agree with the heroine’s forgiveness and aren’t as put off by rape or loved the bodice-rippers of old (Love’s Tender Fury, anyone?). I am happy that Verity and Justin’s relationship worked out for his sake. I am also glad that I read this book by such a stunning author – but overall I was not happy with the romance. Campbell writes an excellent dark, tortured hero but this was one hero whose personality I couldn’t learn to love.

Favorite quotes:

I’m free, I’m free, her heart chanted in time with the gray waves lashing the shore.
I’m free. I’m independent. My life is my own at last.
I’m free, but becoming uncomfortably damp…

“Thank God,” he whispered as he peered over the ledge.
She clung to the precarious slope about a dozen feet down. The cliff didn’t fall away in a sheer drop, but the stony surface was unstable and she could slide to the base of the ravine at any time in a deadly tumble of rocks.
“Hold on,” he looked directly into her terrified eyes, desperate to instill what strength he could.
“Of course I’ll hold on!” she snapped back.

“Sexy”ness rating: Incredibly, enticingly hot for the most part.

Overall Rating: D+

Bottom Line: This book was good – and it had a lot of extra potential that could’ve been realized if I’d gotten the apology I was looking for from Kylemore. His boorish, brutish actions were unforgivable, and I needed a really, really good apology to soften the annoyance and disgust I felt. Unfortunately, the distaste of his rape lingered in my mouth throughout the story, tarnishing this otherwise beautiful work.

Pages: 375
Published: April 1, 2007
Genre: Historical

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