Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Review: Taken by the Duke by Jess Michaels


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Jess Michael's Taken by the Duke is the start of her Pleasure Wars series, which has all the strains of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, and amped up with the Jess's own twist to the tale of a tragic young couple. The beginning of the book draws you in immediately, outlining the centuries-old war between two families, the Rothcastle family and the Windbury family -- in this generation, Christian Rothcastle, has a personal reason to seek revenge against the Windburys: he believes that Liam Windbury seduced his younger sister, Matilda, and tried to elope with her. The elopement resulted in a terrible accident, which left both Christian and Liam scarred and caused the tragic death of Matilda.

An eye for an eye: Christian has planned to kidnap the earl's younger sister, Ava, and ruin her. What Christian doesn't count on is how disarming Ava is and how clear she is in her intention: she will submit to him to save her brother -- and he doesn't count on feeling passion and a little bit more for his captive.

Feuds and rivalries are all-consuming and the parties involved are so focused on their hatred that they don't consider the collateral damage. Matilda and Ava are caught in the crossfires of their family's enmity. Their fathers, grandfathers and brothers never considered how their pride, their own battle has affected their wives and daughters -- how wonderful it would have been for them if they were free to live a more normal life and this is part of what makes Jess Michaels's story so great: we get to read Ava's perspective and opinion on the matter. We hear her complaint and see her take action. Matilda's story ended sadly but Ava still has a chance at changing how her story ends.

"...You scar everyone around you, as did our fathers, our grandfathers, and all the rest back to the beginning, whenever that was."
- loc 1500

* * *

"You spoke to me of isolation, Christian, but you are lucky. You are isolated by choice, not by circumstances out of your control. You choose to be alone, you choose to lock people out, you choose pain. So yes, I pity anyone who would be so bull-headed."
- loc 1611

A kidnapping is a less-than-ideal situation for Ava but she courageously takes control over it. This is a surprising revelation for the duke (and for the readers) because we get the impression that Ava is a helpless wallflower -- but, apparently, there's more to her than meets the eye. I thought she was an admirable heroine who was undaunted in the face of adversity and managed to transform a negative event into a positive opportunity. She did what no man in her family could do: face the enemy and lay down terms. I loved how she moved and spoke with such grace, calm and sensitivity: how she treated Matilda's maid (who was serving her) and how she conducted herself in the Rothcastle household.

Innocence lost. Innocence found. Ava sacrifices her innocence to save her brother from Christian's revenge. Her selfless act is a moment of awakening for Christian -- and he regains a bit of his humanity and stops seeing Ava as the enemy. It's a wonderful moment but also one laced with a bit of sadness: their families have been sworn enemies for so long. There is no future for the two of them. The obstacle is not of their own making but existed even before their time: how does one make the change?

Old hatreds, hard lost, rose up in him as he pictured Windbury running wild. he loved the idea, thought the pain on Ava's face brought him no gratification. Those warring emotions, though, frustrated and angered him. How dare she alter his glee in an enemy's pain?
- loc 1894

What drives and defines Christian are very clear: he starts out as blinded by his anger of all the Windbury and his sole goal is to "win" the rivalry in his lifetime -- but, in the end, he undergoes a change of heart. What would precipitate changing one's whole life's philosophy? Love. Love is always the answer and Ava is Christian's saving grace.

Jess Michaels plots Taken by the Duke very well: by drawing out the tension of the rivalry, magnifying the bittersweet love story that grows between her hero and heroine, and resolving the conflict in an exciting, engrossing way. If my first paragraph wasn't clear, I'd like to reiterate at this point that this book is a winner for me. True story: After I finished reading this, I immediately ordered the second book, Pleasuring the Lady -- but now I'm afraid to read it because the third book, Beauty and the Earl isn't until April 2014 so I am trying to pace myself, and plan to savour the second book while waiting for the third. ^_^

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