Sunday, December 1, 2013

Review: The Greatest of Sins by Christine Merrill


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There is a lot to love in The Greatest of Sins, the first book of Christine Merrill's latest series: Sam and Evie grew up together and were parted because of Evie's father's meddling. Sam is back after six years away and Evie is almost engaged to the Duke of St Aldric. Things remain unresolved for Sam and Evie. Evie is determined to get answers from her childhood friend and love, but Sam is unwilling to tell Evie the truth as he knows it -- it would destroy them and the innocent memories of their childhood. He is determined to bear the burden of that terrible secret by himself.

But Evie discovers the real truth behind Sam's heritage (and so does Sam) and this changes everything for both of them -- except that it came at a price for Evie: she agrees to her father's terms and finally accepts the Duke of St Aldric's suit.

The love story between Sam and Evie have all the elements of being star-crossed: it never seemed to be the right time or place for either of them and it results in so much heartache for our hero and heroine, which is a great tragedy because they have so much love for each other. The first chapter, when Evie is waiting for Sam to come home (and then we see Sam's POV where he is anticipating Evie's reaction to his return) -- the excitement, the longing -- that restless agitation that could only be calmed when the other is present -- is so tangible, so real.

When he had passed through on the hallway, he had taken great care not to look too closely at the place she must be concealed. He did not want to see her. It would make leaving all the more difficult.

But as he'd approached the house, a part of him had feared that she would not be there to greet him. That poor fool had wanted to search the corners for her, to hold out his arms and call out her name. He would be equally foolish to suffer if she did not come to him, or if she had already gone into the arms and the house of another. ...
- Chapter 1

It becomes even more difficult because William, the Duke of St Aldric is a genuinely nice man: the epitome of near-perfection. He is as saintly as his name implies and Evie must choose between them. This is a plus point for Christine Merrill's story: she makes it difficult for Evie (and for the readers) to choose a side. Team Sam or Team William? Both men are equally amazing and complement Evie in different ways. It would've been easier if Sam's rival were a villain or, at least, someone terribly flawed, but he is actually a better person than Sam. It is a struggle every step of the way for our hero and heroine as Merrill tests them and the love they feel for each other: she is not satisfied with a simple declaration of love but, rather, places them in a situation where they must prove true to their own words and actions.

Sam's trust was betrayed in the worst way by Evie's father -- letting him believe for all those years that what he felt for Evie was an abomination; letting him believe that he was the worst sort of man to walk the face of the earth. The revelation on the day of Evie's engagement came a bit too late for Sam but he isn't giving up -- honor be damned. Sam is willing to give up everything to be with Evie. Sam suffers and is tormented because there is no easy path for him and Evie. A pivotal moment was when Sam and Evie made love for the first time -- in other stories, this would be the happy resolution already but, for Sam and Evie, it is only another problem. They have both betrayed the kindness and trust of the Duke of St Aldric.

My one small complaint is this: I would have loved it if Merrill allowed her main characters to sort through their own issues but, the author decides to "help things along" and settled everything through external means. I really wanted to see Sam and Evie be held accountable for the indiscretion that happened while William was incapacitated. (I can't really talk about it much because it is about how the book ends = spoiler.) The way Merrill chose to solve the dilemma that Sam, William and Eve find themselves was a bit too convenient -- nevertheless, this is still a book I would highly recommend to anyone wanting to read a good love story.

Final note: There is one scene, early in the book, that really made an impression on me. It is a simple scene, where Sam teaches Evie how to use his new stethoscope.

...As she listened, she heard the slight hitch in respiration, as though he could not manage to breathe normally. His heartbeat, compared to what she considered normal, was hard and rapid. For a moment, it worried her. Perhaps he was ill. Had his absence concealed some physical problem?

Or the rapid beat might be the sign she had hoped for. She put her hand on the bare skin of his chest to steady the tube and felt his breathing stop all together, even though his heart was racing.

It was her. He might pretend otherwise, but to have her near affected him in ways he could not control.

To test the theory, she moved her hand again and felt his heart jump. Then she looked up at him with a long slow smile.
- Chapter 5

Better than any love scene, IMHO.

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