Friday, June 29, 2012

Review: A Gentleman Undone by Cecilia Grant



Will Blackshear is back from the war and resuming his life as a gentleman of leisure. Will has returned unscathed and everything is fine. That is the facade he presents to the world. Within Will Blackshear roils despair and darkness and a secret sin that Will is desperately seeking absolution for.

Lydia Slaughter discarded her heart and soul long ago, believing she has no use for either one. She has a body that presently ensures her bills get paid and a mind for numbers that ensures her future. Lydia is done with sentimentality and tenderness -- now she deals with numbers and odds. A very specific number: 2000. Pounds sterling. She plans to invest wisely and believes it will be enough for her to secure her independence and to live modestly and comfortably.

Will was never part of Lydia's plans but Will had been drawn to Lydia the first moment he saw her -- and he tries to make sense of his attraction to this woman:

He watched her now, her eyelids lowered and her fingers precise as she fanned out her freshly dealt hand. Not beautiful, no. Pretty, perhaps. Or rather handsome: a young man could have worn that aquiline nose to advantage, and that fiercely etched brow.

She studied her cards without moving any of them -- though the game was whist and all three of her companions were rearranging their cards by suit -- and glanced across at her partner. Gray-blue eyes, expressive of nothing. She could hold all trumps and you'd never know.
- p. 7

But Lydia is someone else's mistress and Will's too broken to even think of having a relationship with a woman -- so they proceed on parallel paths, both seeking to gain the money they each need for their personal agenda.

Soon they discover that, by working together, they could achieve their goals more quickly -- but Lydia is the one with the head for numbers and Will is the one who can get into the card games -- so the lessons begin.

Lydia is Scheherazade -- each night, she steals away from the party and the card games to meet with Will and she teaches him about luck and odds. And Will is entranced by this very intelligent woman who gifts him the secrets of her mind but not of her heart.

"You don't need to trust me. ... In fact I don't advise it. But please trust the odds."
- p. 162

This is a very different love story. It is set in Regency but it is unlike any other Regency novel -- the characters are not gilded and luminous but tarnished beyond recognition. Will and Lydia are all shadows and gray.

Lydia has long acknowledged her brokenness and fallen state --

"A harlot is still a harlot on Sundays."
- p. 186

And it is Will who unravels and gets undone in the story -- he clings to control and restraint (as his name implies) and social decency but he realizes, in the end, that it is in letting go that he will be healed. (See p. 309-310)

I will admit that this story is not for everyone. Parts of it are too painful and too sad to read -- but there is a thoughtfulness in this story and a haunting melancholy that will leave you quiet and in awe of the redemptive power of love.

This is Cecilia Grant's second installment in her Blackshear Family series. The next book, A Woman Entangled will be released in Spring 2013.

To find out more about the author and her books, visit her website. She's also on Facebook.



Final note: This is a wonderfully eloquent admission of love:

"If I'm not in love with you already I'm within striking distance of that state." - p. 276 (Will to Lydia)

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