Saturday, October 19, 2013

ARC Review: A Man Above Reproach by Evelyn Pryce

Click here to buy the book on Amazon

Elias Addison is the new Duke of Lennox. His father died a year ago, leaving him to sort through the mess of bills the former duke has amassed on gifts for his mistress. It is a job that has taken its toll on Elias, making him even more taciturn, more serious and more wary of the kind of women who led to his father's debauchery (and his family's unhappiness).

He was content to sit behind his desk, in his office, poring over his estate books and ledgers but his friend, Nicholas Thackeray, thinks otherwise. One night, Elias allows himself to be dragged to the Sleeping Dove with the promise of the experience of a lifetime -- and Nicholas proves true to his word, for it is at the Sleeping Dove that Elias meets the Bawdy Bluestocking: a woman whom everyone can look at, but cannot touch.

The Bawdy Bluestocking is Josephine Grant, bookseller by day and piano player at the Sleeping Dove at night. She needs both jobs if she is to keep her late father's creditors at bay. She gets paid by the Mother Superior for her piano skills and by the gentlemen who visit The Sleeping Dove for her conversation. It is an acceptable arrangement for Josephine and one that has worked well for her for a while now. Until His Grace, the Duke of Lennox walks through the doors and announces he wants her. Because of his title and wealth, no one dares refuse Elias -- but Josephine is not impressed by either one.

He's a man above reproach and she's a woman who teeters on the edge of scandal -- in that we see the double standard that society holds for us, not just in terms of gender but also in terms of socio-economic status. And, unfortunately, Josephine is doubly marginalized -- but the marvel of Josephine is that she is a woman who is defying the standard, even daring to put a duke in his place.

There is a power struggle that ensues: Elias is determined to get to know Josephine better and Josephine is determined to keep her secrets. Throughout the novel, the author hints at Josephine's pedigree: who is this well-spoken, well-mannered lady, who plays the piano like she was born to it? Who is her family and why did she run away from them? Added to that, Josephine has an ulterior motive for working at The Sleeping Dove and it has to do with the girls who work for the Mother Superior. Clues are carefully placed and made for a very compelling read. (So compelling, I finished it in one sitting and ended up sleeping a lot later than my usual bedtime.)

"... It is said she's a courtesan, but I have not met the man that has kept her. Some say she's a society lady moonlighting here as a voyeur, to escape her loveless marriage, but I have looked her straight in the face and those eyes do not exist in our circles. Plays piano all night, and well. You can talk to her, but she charges for her time, and she does not do private audiences. ..."
- loc 95 - 108

I wasn't certain of my opinion of Elias -- I kept seeing him from Josephine's point of view: a man so used to his own way and will get them with a snap of his fingers. I felt Josephine's frustration and helplessness as she got swept up in Elias's world. So I decided to take a step back and look at Elias from his sister's perspective and from Nicholas's perspective: Elias is clearly ... different from how they know him. In fact, they've never seen Elias so relentless, so dedicated, and so passionate about something/someone before. It is understandable, then, that this is the only way Elias knows how to express himself. It looks a bit bossy, and a bit overbearing -- but his intentions are good: he truly wants to see Josephine happy and cared for. I really enjoyed watching the romance blossom between the two of them: Elias bordered on mischievous as he tried to discover more about Josephine and it was gratifying to see someone so wound up become so undone by love.


She coughed, a rather harsh expelling of air.

"I'm afraid the books are not organized by color, but by author or series."

"No, Bluestocking. You. Blue. I did not expect to see you so soon. You are irresistible without your mask, even in that atrocious day gown."

"I do apologize -- I think you must have mistaken me for someone else. Being rather plain --"

"You are far from plain."
- loc 409

A Man Above Reproach is the 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel award for Romance and it is well-deserved. It is not just a breakthrough story but also has breakthrough characters: Elias and Josephine are wonderfully-layered and wonderfully-engaging. My favorite part is that both have actually authored obscure books that no one else, except them, has read and appreciated. I thought it was an indication of how like-minded they were and, beyond the social disparity, they were very, very compatible.

"You cannot become friendly with me, or court me, which seems to be what you are doing ... though I wonder if you are consciously aware of it. We cannot have a romantic story." She wound the ribbon that tied her robe around her finger: once, twice, thrice. He fixated on the circular movement, every muscle in his body stretched tight. "You read too much fiction if you think we can come to a resolution in the real world. The scandal would be of Byronic proportions and you, sir, are noted for your adherence to rules. I have nothing to offer you but trouble with the society you must continue to navigate all your days You are the Uncatchable; I am unsuitable. That is all that is going on here."

"I hate that nickname."
- loc 1547

Finally, I appreciated the author's commentary on the status of prostitutes during the 19th century. Josephine's "book" gave a very clear insight into their lack of agency and lack of choices -- beyond the prostitutes, though, Josephine also takes aim at the patriarchy that existed in their society and was calling for such reforms. (I love how Evelyn Pryce resolves this. ^_^)

"... I am sure you see the danger in women like us thinking that a nobleman will rescue them from their nightmares. Impractical at best, heartbreaking at worst."
- loc 271

A Man Above Reproach is the awesome debut novel by Evelyn Pryce. It will be released by Montlake on October 22, 2013. I am very, very excited about her next book. (I hope she features Nicholas or Elias's sister, Alessandra.)

Disclosure: I received the ARC through Netgalley. (Thank you to Evelyn Pryce and to Montlake for accepting my request.) Yes, this is an honest review.

To find out more about Evelyn Pryce, click below:


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