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There is a certain irony to Michael Poole's life: he has devoted himself to goodness and to being the exact opposite of his parents, but an illness and the poor choices he makes soon after finds him in the exact situation his parents were in. Trapped in a loveless marriage to a spouse who has devoted her life to making his life miserable. But Michael cannot blame Madeline for her hatred of him. He had taken advantage of her, and, to make matters worse, he was too drunk to remember it.
Because of Michael's mistake, Madeline lost her position as governess, as well as her professional reputation, and now finds herself pregnant with Michael's child. When she decided to seek him out, she was only expecting some monetary restitution, but Michael offers her marriage instead.
Mixed blessing. Joyful sadness. Cruel kindness. This is a novel of contradictory and complicated emotions and ideas. For Michael Poole, nothing is ever simple or free anymore. He has to live with the consequences of the terrible choices that he made after he had recovered from mumps. Even his recovery was not without any side effects: he was told that he might not ever father a child. To have Maddie at his doorstep, announcing that she is pregnant with his child is a source of great happiness for Michael -- but it is also the source of his greatest sadness. Because what he did to Maddie was a big mistake -- an unforgivable mistake -- and he is willing to sacrifice himself and his happiness, and devote his entire life to making her comfortable and giving their child everything in his power to give.
I first met Michael in Samuel and Evie's story, and I was in awe of this man who epitomised what it means to be a gentleman. When his near-perfect life takes an unexpected turn and he contracts mumps as an adult, and then gets jilted by his fiancee (Evie), I saw it as a test of Michael's character: would he rise above the setbacks he is experiencing? Sadly, Michael failed the test miserably, and he falls from saintly heights to become ... human.
His story begins from this, the lowest depths Michael has ever been and he is determined to make right of the situation. It does not help that Maddie is reluctant to accept Michael's help or to trust Michael's intentions. From the minute she accepted Michael's proposal, Maddie knew she would make things very difficult and very unpleasant for him. She was really determined to make him pay for what happened to her. But Michael was already sorry, and Maddie didn't see this.
He hid the flinch. With the evil smile she wore, he could imagine what she wished them to say. She wanted choruses of high-pitched voices accusing him of actions he could not defend. And doing it in front of what seemed to be half of London.
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I wished Maddie had known Michael before his illness, and seen how wonderful he was. I wondered how differently their love story would have turned out if they had met under different circumstances -- I think they would have been really happy. But that is not Michael and Maddie's story, for they would never had met on that life: Michael is a duke and Maddie was a governess, with a less-than impeccable background.
This is their story. And the problem is, Maddie didn't know Michael before. She only knows of the drunken Michael who came to her room and took advantage of her in her sleep. She lost her independence, her job, her reputation -- her life as she knew it. And, more importantly, she lost confidence in herself. She began to doubt her own actions that night. Was she willing? Did she innately know it wasn't just a dream of her former lover? Her anger towards Michael is partly a reflection of her anger towards herself, and it's a terrible place to be in, which is why I understand why she can't help but lash out at Michael. But, instead of getting satisfaction or healing, her actions make the wounds fester and deepen even more, and she isn't any happier now with the choices that she is making.
Michael is resigned to his current life, which is very familiar to him: his parents led a similar one and were happy in each other's unhappiness. It is an apt superimposition of lives: that he and Maddie would decamp from London to Aldricshire, the seat of the Dukes of St. Aldric, and a place full of unhappy memories for Michael. The house is a story in itself -- with its labyrinthine rooms and separate wings for the duke and duchess. It was the story of his parents' lives and now it is the story of his life. Would he and Maddie turn out like his parents? Would his own child experience the same isolation and alienation that he felt as a child? Michael wishes he could change things, but he needs a willing partner if he is to succeed. He understands Maddie's enmity, because he knows he deserves it.
It had given him a sort of sick pleasure to see Madeline stunned to silence by the opulence of her surroundings. But in this house, what other kind of pleasure could there ever be but an unhealthy one> With her trunks full of satins, and her horrible screeching birds and sad wastes of horseflesh, she had thought it possible that he could be shamed, or shocked, or even annoyed. What a silly little girl she was.
It was a pity she had not met his mother. The woman had been a master at that game even before little Madeline was born.
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I flinched reading about Maddie's anger and cringed at Michael's dispassion and disinterest -- and I wondered how Merrill will solve this quandary her characters find themselves in. We've read so many stories about marriages of (in)convenience, but Merrill really pushes the ticket by showing us just how inconvenient and terrible it is to marry someone who isn't completely willing. Merrill also shows us the gradual process that characters go through to make things work. In the end, the question we ask is, is love possible in such a circumstance? Can we gain redemption if we seek it out?
This was an engaging and riveting read, full of all the things that makes us human: pride, fallibility, error, etc. We see the struggle of two people, caught in a difficult situation, and how they move forward. The theme of recovery is evident in this story and it is the goal the Michael and Maddie are both working towards -- but using very different approaches. They want to return to their normal selves, but I wonder if that is ever possible. Every experience changes us and there is no looking back, only forward. It's a lesson everyone must learn some time in their lives and so do Michael and Maddie.
Christine Merrill wraps up this story in a heart-wrenching way and, in the end, we find out whether a saint can rise after he has fallen.
The Fall of a Saint is the second part of Christine Merrill's The Sinner and the Saint series. It will be released on March 1, 2014. To find out more about Christine Merrill, click below:
Disclosure: I received this ARC via Netgalley. Thank you to Christine Merrill and Harlequin for the opportunity. Yes, this is an honest review.