Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Review: Lady in Red by Maire Claremont

Click here to buy the book on Amazon

At a young age, Mary Darrel, the young daughter of the Duke of Duncliffe, after witnessing her mother's deadly fall down the stairs, was sent to an asylum by her father. She escaped with her friend Eva (read: The Dark Lady) and, with no other place to go to, she approaches the only woman she and her mother have ever trusted, a madam by the name of Yvonne. At Yvonne's house, Mary finds shelter and comfort -- and also a man so unlike any other men she has ever met:

Edward seeks to take care of her and protect her -- not hurt her. A novel and unknown concept to a woman abused and degraded to the brink of madness. Yvonne sees that an arrangement between Edward and Mary might work: her father is certain to be searching for her, as well as the people from the asylum -- Edward is a new character in this mad drama and would be one of the last places they would look for Mary.

Edward is the Duke of Fairleigh is no stranger to the perversities of one's forebears. His terrible burden is of being responsible for his father's hanging: a rare thing to hang a Duke, rarer still to have the duke's son and heir testify against him. Edward sees Mary as a way to atone for the horrific death suffered by a woman who was much younger and more helpless than Mary. He leads Mary down the path of healing and rebuilding -- and the path to vengeance.

Mary grows stronger each day with Edward -- she is learning to defend herself, to speak up for herself, to choose for herself, and to rediscover a heart she thought had long withered: love for Edward blossoms within Mary from the aridness of her soul and Mary recognizes what a miracle this is.

Tears stung her eyes. "You're not going to send me away, then?"

"Why would I do that?" he asked, shock tightening his features.

"B-because of what I have done. Where I have been."

"I want you all the more because of what you have done, where you have been, and your will to survive."
- Chapter 10

Edward is more hesitant to open his heart to Mary, afraid to show all the darkness he hides inside -- when the two reach the crossroads, Mary knows where she is going but Edward isn't too certain he wants to follow.

There are fairy tales and there are Fairy Tales. We all know the story of Cinderella, about her wicked stepmother and about her glass slipper. We know the story of Sleeping Beauty and the spindle of a spinning wheel. We know the story of the Little Mermaid, her lost voice and her great sacrifice for love and we take comfort in the message of these fairy tales: all will be well in the end. Love and a bit of magic will conquer all. There is a Prince Charming to rescue us.

But behind these idyllic, perfect stories lie darker, more gruesome stories: about the stepsister cutting off her toe and the other one her heel to fit the glass slipper, of Sleeping Beauty being raped as she lay sleeping, and of the Little Mermaid's legs being painful to walk on and she jumps to her death, turning into sea foam. The original collected fairy tales by Grimm and by Hans Christian Andersen are more macabre and, were definitely not for children.

Maire Claremont's romance novels are dark and terrifying. In her Mad Passions series, Claremont throws the doors open on the asylum practices of Victorian England and of the patients who are sometimes wrongfully sent there.

Red is the color of blood, of fire, of war but it is also the color of passion, the color of love. Mary epitomizes both aspects of this color: the violence and the passion for life both simmer deeply within her.

She has escaped the asylum: what's next for her? The truth is, there is nothing: it is her father who betrayed her and had her declared dead, and those paid to "take care" of her abused and degraded her in an indissoluble way. Mary is forging forward into an unknown future: she knows only to do one thing -- to live. And she has done so up to this point. She relies on the kindness of her mother's only friend and then on Edward and his friend Powers. It is Edward who gives her direction and a target for all that rages within her. It is Edward who teaches her about revenge.

Revenge is at the center of the conflict between Edward and Mary. Initially, Edward helped focus Mary towards avenging herself against her father: training her in self-defense and to channel her anger and energy towards making herself stronger -- but, in time, Edward realizes that revenge would not be the answer. Edwards sudden change of heart was brought about by his change of heart: from frozen and locked, his heart has thawed and opened up to Mary -- it is a liberating feeling for Edward, but also frightening. Can someone with his family history, his blood and his past truly love and deserve the love of another person?

For Mary, revenge is her only course. Despite her feelings for Edward, it is clear that there is no future with him and she has no future anywhere else: she's "damaged goods", still fighting off her addiction to laudanum, and has nothing to lose.

This was a painful story to read as it tells the story on the human being at her lowest, darkest point. It is a point in most people's lives that we are afraid to experience, much less imagine: but Maire Claremont is telling her heroine's story from there -- but in doing so, she shows how truly admirable Mary is, how she is a heroine unlike any other heroine (well, maybe except for Lady Eva) ever written.

Something rose inside Edward so fierce that it nearly blinded him.

"I don't care if you are using me, Mary."

She lifted trembling hands, appealing to some invisible power before she fired out, "You should care. What are we if we are just using each other? Parasites. That's what we are."
- Chapter 22

But, ultimately, reading this from beginning to end is a cathartic journey for our hero and heroine and a cathartic experience for the readers: because, beyond the darkness and the shadows, Maire Claremont always, always anchors her story to the human heart and to love. In the end, this dark story celebrates the brightness, the triumphant light that comes from loving.

Lady in Red is the second book in Maire Claremont's Mad Passions series. To find out more about her and her books, click below:


Final note: The stand-out character for me in this story is Powers, he and Mary are alike in their addiction and brokenness. I loved the "love triangle" that forms between him, Mary and Edward (and am still curious how the story would have turned out if they had ended up together.)

His narrowed gaze trailed over her in a critical trace. "Good god, woman, don't you eat? You're rag and bone."

The words, true but abrasive, hit her hard. She was eating -- Edward had ensured that -- but it was taking time to regain her strength. What a bastard this man was for pointing it out! An astounded breath escaped her lips before she drew herself up and replied, "'Tis a trifle early to be chasing dragons, my lord, don't you think?"

The frigid man's brows barely rose and his nostrils flared. Emotions seemed to unleash from his cold control for the barest moment, but then the edges of his lips tilted in dry amusement. "One must assume you, too, have gone over a dragon or two, madam, to recognize the signs."
- Chapter 11


  1. “Lady in Red” is an amazing novel! Maire Claremont has the most incredible talent to be able to reach deep inside her characters and find the damage they have suffered, the fear they face and then to write her story that shows them the way to find help and healing. Be sure to grab a copy of this great novel and sit right down to read it. You will immediately be entranced and not be able to let go until you have finished the book. Enjoy!

  2. Oh, Connie! That was a lovely review of the book! Maire Claremont is a very unique voice in historical romance. I love reading her books. ^_^



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