Friday, August 3, 2012

Review: Ravishing the Heiress by Sherry Thomas


All that I love
I fold over once
And once again
And keep in a box
Or a slit in a hollow post
Or in my shoe.
- Bonsai by Edith Tiempo

What happens when you are in love with someone who is in love with someone else?

What happens when you are married to and in love with someone is in love with and wishes he were married to someone else?

Millie Fitzhugh is in that situation -- stuck in a marriage of convenience to a man who finds her very presence inconvenient.

At 17, most girls wouldn't know what to do -- would probably accept their fate and live complacent of the whole situation.

But Millie isn't like most girls. And, surprisingly, it is her husband who unwittingly gives her the courage to dream bigger than herself.

"I have been thinking about what you said the other day. You made me realize that yes, I have been forced into this. I was never given ant other choice, never told that there was any other way to justify my existence on this earth but to be a conduit that united the Graves name with a lineage nobler and more ancient.

It is a stupid goal. But such are the circumstances of our lives that we must hold our noses and proceed, or we shall both be far worse off ..."
- p. 44

While Millie and Fitz have no say about who they marry, they do have a say about what happens to them after. And so, young Millie and young Fitz both agree to eight years of freedom from married life.

It is eight years later, despite the circumstances, Millie and Fitz have become very good friends and partners in Millie's father's business. Fitz's old love is back. Isabella is now a widow and is eager to rekindle what was snuffed out many years ago.

But, before Fitz can do that, he must first fulfill his bargain with Millie.

Millie has always known she would never have her husband's heart -- and now it returns to its true owner -- but, first, she must honor her end of the bargain and she wonders how she will survive it.

After four years and reading all of Sherry Thomas's books, these are what I have come to love about her work:

Flawless Prose
Her writing is so beautiful and very poetic. With a pointillist's precision, Thomas carefully and thoughtfully selects words to paint an incredibly heart-wrenching and breathtaking picture.

Consider this moment when she first met Fitz:
Like a visitation of angels, there flared a bright white light in the center of her vision. Haloed by this supernatural radiance stood a young man who musy have folded his wings just that moment so as to bear a passing resemblance to a mortal.

An instinctive sense of self-preservation made her lower her face before she'd quite comprehended the geography of his features. But she was all agitation inside, a sensation that was equal parts glee and misery.
- p. 4

Unusual Love Story
Thematically, Ravishing the Heiress could be best compared to Not Quite a Husband -- but, where Bryony and Leo's problem was one of not knowing how the other felt, Fitz and Millie's problem is that they knew.

They knew that Fitz didn't want to marry Millie. They knew that Fitz wanted to marry Isabella. They knew that Millie's family only wanted her to marry Fitz for his title and connections.

In all romance novels, the reflection is always: How does love come to be? And I have come to appreciate this question as Sherry Thomas releases these three stories about the Fitzhugh siblings back-to-back:

In the first book, love happened in a whirlwind affair on a boat, with the heroine masked and unseen by the hero. Love expressed itself in a physical and intellectual way (they were conversing quite often) --

In this one, love happens when it wasn't supposed to happen. Love has no physical expression here -- it came to be through mutual respect and shared work, blossoming through friendship.

Love was patient in Millie and Fitz's case -- it took them eight years to discover and reveal what was in their hearts.

Flashbacks
Most times, flashbacks are used for the reader's benefit -- to explain something that happened in the past that is significant to the events of the present. (Private Arrangements and what Gigi did to Cam.)

In this story, the use of flashbacks is also for Millie and Fitz's benefit -- to show just how many experiences they have shared together, despite their pact to live independently of each other. Their memories of each other pervade their present in a seamless way.

I loved the breakfast scene with the scrambled eggs -- how something as simple and mundane as that could trigger a memory from the past.

Her light brown hair was pulled back into a tight bun, not a strand loose -- never a strand loose, except when she'd smashed a brick fireplace wielding a sledgehammer.

...

His wife had left behind some scrambled eggs, which was most unlike her... He knew she liked her eggs salted, but this was less scrambled egg than scrambled salt. He'd have to speak to her about it next time he saw her...
- pp. 19 - 23

The fireplace. The eggs. The next time. Past, present and future meld together in a very organic and instinctual way. (We learn about the incident with the sledgehammer in pp. 116 to 118)

Could this story have been told in a linear fashion? Yes, and I think it would flow just as wonderfully -- but the implosive element with be lost. And that aspect of Millie reminded me of Edith Tiempo's poem, the first stanza of which I have quoted at the beginning of this review. We would not be able to see how Millie struggled to contain her feelings for Fitz -- how she tried to "fold up her feelings" and made them small so that no one would see it.

Awe
I am a huge fan of Sherry Thomas and consider her books to be keepers. Every time I read her books, I am affected in a way that rarely happens when I read. (It's been 4 days since I finished this book -- and the story has stayed with me long after I have read it.)

What is amazing about this book is how incredibly compact it is -- a love story that spanned eight years told in less than 300 pages. And it works.

The third book in the series, Helena Fitzhugh's story, Tempting the Bride, will be released this October. (Yay!)

Also, I'm so glad to hear that Sherry Thomas will be releasing 2 e-novellas related to her Fitzhugh series. (The first e-novella will be part of the Midnight Scandals anthology, which will be released this August.)

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

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