I’m still firmly in the land of re-reads–which will not shrink my TBR Mountain range any, but at least means I’m back to reading. And you, gentle readers, get treated to more reviews of older books. You
poor things erm…lucky people you.
I first heard about this book from the lovely KristieJ, many, many moons ago, right around it was released. Unfortunately, at the time I had a very long list of ARCs and other review commitments, so I just made a note to read it soon.
Things happened, and it turned out that I read the second book in the series, Lady Isabella’s Scandalous Marriage, first, sometime after it had come out.
In fact, if memory serves for anything, I think I also read the next one, The Many Sins of Lord Cameron, before I finally got my hands on Lord Ian.
When I finally did, however, I loved it as much as KristieJ promised I would; so much, that I own two paper copies (one will eventually my sister’s), and I just got the digital version when it was on sale a few days ago.
Of course, I immediately ‘paged’ through it, and a couple of hours later, when my phone battery died, I realized I was engaged in a full re-read. And so, here we are.
The usual disclaimer: explicit sex, explicit language, and a bit of violence. This novel has a hero in the autism spectrum, most likly Asperger’s; it is the first such hero in genre romance I’ve ever read, and I am not familiar enough with autism to vouch for the accuracy or sensitivity of the portrayal. Proceed with caution.
The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie, by Jennifer Ashley
The novel is set in 1881, well into the Victorian era, where many things were changing in Britain; from the political climate to technology, this was a period of social tension. Everything is in flux.
Our hero, the eponymous Lord Ian, is the youngest of four brothers with very tarnished reputations. The family is quite high socially–dukedoms do that–and they have a lot of money, individually and as a family–thanks in large part to Ian’s affinity for numbers, perfect recall, and instinctive understanding of finances.
Our heroine, Mrs Beth Ackerley, is the widow of a vicar from a rough part of London, lately the companion of a wealthy gentlewoman of little consequence, who willed her fortune to Beth.
Here’s the blurb:
It was whispered all through London Society that Ian Mackenzie was mad, that he’d spent his youth in an asylum, and was not to be trusted—especially with a lady. For the reputation of any woman caught in his presence was instantly ruined.
Yet Beth found herself inexorably drawn to the Scottish lord whose hint of a brogue wrapped around her like silk and whose touch could draw her into a world of ecstasy. Despite his decadence and his intimidating intelligence, she could see that he needed help. Her help. Because suddenly the only thing that made sense to her was…The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie.
This book has so many things going on, it’s kind of hard to focus on any one thing, or even only the main characters; in this book, Ms Ashley created an entire world populated by fully fleshed people, with quirks and pasts, and interests and goals. However, rest assured, the romance is absolutely front and center throughout.
As we meet her, Beth Ackerley has risen fairly high from her humble origins in life; it’s true that her mother was lower gentry, but her father was a French conman who left them to survive on the streets. Eventually, her mother takes Beth to a workhouse. Orphaned at fifteen, her marriage a few years later to a vicar of progressive beliefs makes Beth respectable enough to secure a position as companion to a wealthy parishioner upon his untimely death.
Obviously, Beth is no stranger to the uglier aspects of life in Victorian London. The realities of children labor, gin poisoning, violence, and the like, are familiar things she’s lived with. Life as a wealthy widow herself, and one still of marriageable age, is not. I’ve read in other reviews that Beth is too naïve, too innocent in some ways she shouldn’t be, considering her upbringing.
Perhaps I’m being too forgiving, because I really liked Beth, but I didn’t find this so. Instead, I think she is one of those rare people who always look for the best in others first. It doesn’t mean she’s blind to their flaws, it’s more that she prefers to focus on goodness, if that makes sense.
And so, when she meets Lord Ian and his unconventional brothers, she’s miles more accepting of Ian’s personality quirks and social faux pas, than most other women in her position would be. Another reason for her acceptance is that she herself feels out of place, like an impostor. Her new wealth provides a buffer from the world, but she is still the young girl from the workhouse, with pretty enough manners and decent diction, but no education to speak of.
Beth is another of those rare romance heroines who had a loving and satisfying relationship with her first husband. She is accepting of her own sexuality; though, what with her husband being a vicar (for all his progressive beliefs), and their marriage being relatively short, she is not jaded. Instead, she is joyful; reading her journal entries on her sexual escapades with Ian is lovely. There is an…awkwardness? in some of the word choices that make these passages feel true to the character’s personality and feelings.
For his part, Ian has a horrible backstory, which is due both because his father was a horrible person, period, and because of Ian’s personality. At a time when people who behaved differently than the accepted norm we considered criminal, insane, or both, it is easy to believe that his father would try to beat Ian’s moods out of him. Eventually, while still a child, Ian is sent into an asylum, where he is further abused for a number of years. It is only until after his father’s death, when his eldest brother Hart becomes Duke of Kilmorgan, that Ian is released from this hell.
I mentioned above that I have no close personal experience with autistic people, so I have no way to judge whether Ian’s thought processes, as written, come close to reality. However, they are riveting for me to read. Ian has perfect recall–of everything. Music, figures, conversations. His comprehension of many of these things, however, can be limited, focusing on one, or perhaps two, aspects of any one thing. It is difficult for him to understand humor, or interpreting other people’s feelings and reactions. He has learned to function among society, but he is truly comfortable only with a small number of people.
And there are things, and people, who can bring out episodes of violence, lack of control, and mental meltdowns that Ian cannot control. These ‘muddles,’ as Ian thinks of them, are by no means a frequent occurrence, but they can be horrifying when they happen. Without his brothers’ and Curry, his valet’s, vigilance, Ian’s outbursts could have terrible consequences.
When Ian meets Beth, he immediately focuses on her; the intensity of his regard seems out of proportion to everyone else, including her, but it makes sense from Ian’s point of view. That goodness, that willingness to see the good in people, that I mentioned before? To Ian, that makes Beth real; therefore, he is determined to keep her in his life.
Alas, the course of true love is never easy; there are a number of obstacles, and people with good, or not so good, intentions, in the way. There are secrets, both recent and old, and intrigues, and crime, and through all this, there’s Beth acceptance of Ian, and his intense fixation on her, and on how her company soothes him.
For example, there’s a backstory that connects Ian, and the Mackenzies as a family, to a couple of murders of prostitutes. We meet Detective Inspector Fellows, who was so determined to prove Ian’s guilt on the first murder case, that his superiors were forced to forbid him to even interact with the family, lest he be fired. After all, Lord Ian is the brother of a very influential, and obscenely wealthy, duke of the realm. One doesn’t accuse people like these of sordid crimes such as murder with impunity.
And there’s Isabella, Ian’s sister in law, who is estranged both from her family–who disowned her when she eloped with Ian’s brother Mac–and from her husband. There are Ian’s brothers, Cameron, Mac and Hart, and the complicated, often awkward filial affection between all four.
I think it’s really worth repeating that, despite the number of secondary characters, most if not all of them, are pretty well fleshed out, and while it’s clear, for those of us who read romance series, that some of them will have their own book later on, none of these people show up just for the sake of sequel bait. They show up because their lives intersect with Ian’s and Beth’s lives in one way or another.
I enjoy Ms Ashley’s writing voice here, very much; the book is a mix of deep point of view (Ian’s, Beth’s), and a sort of omnipresent third person narrator for some scenes involving other characters. This technique works very well in this novel precisely because of how unique Ian’s point of view is, and because, in order to fully accept Beth’s feelings for Ian, we need to see through her eyes.
I don’t want to give much more details about the plot, because I’d rather not spoil the novel for a new reader, but I’ll say that this is a keeper for me, and I love both of the leads.
The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie gets a 8.75 out of 10 from me.