Reader beware: I got this book at a bloggers giveaway (The Good, The Bad and The Unread, where this review was originally published)
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The Perils of Pleasure, by Julie Anne Long
With no ado whatsoever, here’s the back cover blurb:
A rescued rogue…
Scandal has rocked the city of London. Colin Eversea, a handsome, reckless, unapologetic rogue, is sentenced to hang for murder and, inconveniently for him, the only witness to the crime disappears. Then again, throughout history, the Everseas have always managed to cheat fate in style: Colin is snatched from the gallows by a beautiful, clever mercenary.
A captivating captor…
Cool-headed, daring Madeleine Greenway is immune to Colin’s vaunted charm. Her mission is not to rescue Colin but to kidnap him, and to be paid handsomely for it. But when it becomes clear that whoever wants Colin alive wants Madeleine dead, the two become uneasy allies in a deadly race for truth. Together, they’ll face great danger—and a passion neither can resist.
This novel has an interesting pacing. It starts rather slowly, almost disinterestedly, with a prologue. Little by little, chapter by chapter, the pace increases without the reader’s awareness, until one is racing towards a climax that surprises even upon a second reading.
As the story begins, Colin Eversea has convinced himself that he’s resigned to die for a murder he didn’t commit. He’s literally feet from the gallows, during a completely unexpected and unbelievably daring rescue, when he realizes that he’s been lying to himself. In the months since his arrest, during his imprisonment at Newgate, Colin has little to do but remember and reflect—and so he does. He wants to live, and he’s determined to prove his innocence. His shock at finding himself still alive and free—even if it’s a precarious from of freedom—only increases when he realizes that his rescuer is a woman.
However, this woman is quite unlike the women Colin has known, and charmed, as he coasts through life as one of the legendary Everseas. While Madeline is called a mercenary at one point by Colin, in fact she’s more of a criminal mastermind—or, as she calls herself, a planner—which is much easier for me to believe, given the period the novel is set in. It’s fairly evident that she’s not a lady yet neither is she uneducated nor ordinary. That she’s intelligent and resourceful there can be no doubt, given that Colin’s rescue is accomplished with great fanfare yet little to no actual danger nor harm to either spectators or soldiers. It is all smoke and mirrors.
But even with Madeline’s nigh flawless planning, there are unknown players at work, and thus these two are forced into an uneasy alliance, since their goals are not quite compatible. Colin is racing to stay free and alive, to prove his innocence, and to stop the imminent wedding of his eldest brother Marcus to Louisa Porter, whom Colin has loved from childhood. Madeline is running for her life, from her past, and towards a new beginning across the Atlantic.
I very much enjoyed how these two characters became more complex with each page. They do not start as two dimensional cut outs by any means, but the more they interact with each other, the more intriguing they become. While the novel barely covers a full week, what happens is that Colin and Madeline each act as catalysts for each other’s realization of their inner growth and their core strength.
Particularly enjoyable for me is that the author didn’t resort to villainy to explain Madeline’s past nor how it informs her present. Her pain is due to the realities of her time, and not the doing of man, and her healing is silent, unobtrusive, while she’s busy surviving. Colin his incarceration and sentencing, and then his time on the run with Madeline, scrape away at his self-cultivated varnish of charm and carelessness to the core of steel and feeling that is the man.
There are a couple instances of ‘small town syndrome’ in the course of the novel that made me both smile and realize that the London of the time, as big as it was, was still a comparatively small place, where people of many different social strata sooner or later crossed paths, even if only for an instant. (McBride, the apothecary in Seven Dials, with his remedies for any and all complaints of a certain nature, and Croker the broker, are perfect examples.)
In the novel there are circles within circles, with people seemingly unrelated to the main plot being manipulated into acting as pawns for whoever is pulling the strings behind the curtains. I like how each new thread in the story leads Colin and Madeline to apparent dead ends, and each time there’s some little hint, just a whisper of a clue, leading them onward.
These threads introduce the reader to quite a few secondary characters, each one complex in his own way. There are no two-dimensional placeholders here, but fleshed-out, well rounded people, each and every one: a countess and a footman, an apothecary and a hackney driver, a renowned surgeon and the Resurrectionists who provide him with bodies, a group of soldiers and a thug hoping to capture Colin and cash in on the reward posted for him.
We also see how the story is shaped by:
Families, and the myriad complex and often contradictory feelings that familial ties and love often encompass.
Secrets; the power in knowing them, the dangers of having them; their uses and the impact of their revelation upon the unwary.
And, finally, the reality that life does go on, and that the human spirit can survive most anything. In Colin’s words, “Life can be the very devil sometimes.”
I was ecstatic to discover, while writing this review, that The Perils of Pleasure is actually the first book in a series about the Everseas and their sworn enemies, the Redmonds, because it means that some of the questions about these characters that are now swirling around in my head will likely be answered—or at least explored a bit. Even better, from my perspective, is the fact that I didn’t expect this novel to be part of a series. The open ended conflict and the unanswered questions felt completely organic and real. The next installment, Like No Other Lover, comes out in November 2008.
8 out of 10