Friday, March 14, 2014

Review: The Dark Affair by Maire Claremont


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As I was reading The Dark Affair, one question kept popping in my mind: Who was Maire Claremont's visual peg for Powers? When I finished reading this story , I googled "Viscount Powers Maire Claremont" -- and even did an image search. (I could not do it while reading, because this was one of those books that you cannot put down.)

Yes, I was smitten and stalker-ish. It's been a few days since I read this book, and I still want to see a picture of Powers. I want to peer into his eyes and see how silvery his hair truly is. I see this as a good thing because Powers is such an amazing hero who has truly captivated me and piqued my interest. And from Maire's description, he is very, very, very handsome in that broken/tortured soul-sort-of-way. (Maire posted her dream cast at TBQ's Book Palace and cast Chris Hemsworth as Powers!)

The opening chapter of The Dark Affair is an electrifying showdown between Powers and Maggie -- and proves that Maggie is a formidable heroine. She does not back down from Powers's taunts and teasing, but stands her ground. Her experience as a nurse during the Crimean War has given Maggie a rare insight into the souls of men possessed by the demons of their past and Maggie has devoted her life to helping such men.

But Powers proves a rare challenge for Maggie: for the first time, Maggie feels more for this patient and she realizes that there is something human missing in her as well. She has long contained any love or happiness within herself because she has seen the devastating effects of feeling these too much. So she holds herself up as someone frigid, stoic, emotionless and unaffected by the things around her and prides herself in being professional. She is the nurse and he is the patient -- and she has never ever thought or dared to cross over that line -- until Powers.

Margaret pressed a hand to her middle and swallowed back the disconcerting sense of sadness that encompassed her usually icy heart. It would do the viscount no good for her to become overly involved in his pain. No. Only a calm assessment of his situation would aid him. Still ...
- Chapter 3

Are they adversaries? Each time Maggie and Powers clash, sparks fly -- as with science, when two hard surfaces make contact with each other. It is dramatic and breathtaking ... and heartbreaking to see the two of them battle each other and battle themselves -- trying to deny those feelings that the other elicits. But it is a losing battle, because we know that life involves complex and messy emotions -- and, no matter how hard they try to contain their feelings, we know that there are very strong passions that drive both our hero and heroine.

Claremont introduced us to Powers in The Lady in Red, and the few scenes we saw of him present a tantalizing picture: a man so unfettered from the demands of society because of his title and wealth, but obviously trapped in his opium addiction. His scenes with Mary made a deep impression on me and I really, really wanted to know more about Powers. Even then, we already knew Powers was a complicated man -- and Claremont develops this even further in The Dark Affair.

There are several factors that pull at Powers: the death of his wife and young daughter, and his father's very controlling ways. I think the author captures the essence of Victorian London in this story: the repressiveness and correctness and stifling morality of the period. Powers' father represents what a Victorian gentleman ought to be like and prides himself in his strength, his "perfection" and his stoicism. He tries to impose this on Powers, as evidenced by the extreme treatment he demanded from Maggie. Maggie would not have wished such suffering on a man who is already suffering -- but Powers was able to bear going cold turkey.

It is strangely contradictory that the Victorian times called for control of one's emotions, but the very head of state (Queen Victoria) was involved in a very passionate affair with her own husband. Powers' late wife was a tragic victim of the very exacting standards of the period and Powers's descent into "madness" can be seen as him fighting against the system: a system that could not tolerate such "deviant" behavior, which was why Powers was sent to an asylum.

Is he mad? Was Eva mad? Was Mary? Claremont's contention seems to be, no. In Powers' case, he suffers from a terrible addiction and he seems to have an addictive personality, in general -- I love how Maggie handles him. There's one moment that stands out for me: after a night of fighting off the effects of opium withdrawal, Powers wanted to kiss Maggie. And Maggie was really, really tempted to give in -- but she knew what it was about -- that it wasn't about her and him, but about his addiction, so she said no. (Even though she really, really, really wanted to say yes.) (Read: Chapter 13)

Are they partners? Claremont really put her hero and heroine through the wringer in this one. It's hard enough to have a nurse/patient relationship, but the author decided to complicated things even further by marrying them -- out of convenience. It's amazing how you can't really define this novel by one or two or three tropes/conventions -- it eludes any sort of classification. I think this is testament of Claremont's very original approach to writing romances. Her characters are complex and their relationship is complicated. This is a story about madness, but Claremont tells this story with such lucidity and deliberateness. Powers' journey from addicted to recovering was harrowing -- but it is his journey towards accepting his late wife and daughter's deaths that was even more gripping. Powers could not even name it or say it out loud, for fear that he might shatter from the pain of it. It presents him as a man of incredible sensitivity and strength --

Maggie has a similar secret -- she witnessed her parents' love story and the very negative aspect of loving: it can lead to heartbreak, disappointment and, in her parents' case, tragedy. She has never spoken of it to anyone -- but Powers was able to draw this part of Maggie out.

Is there real love between Powers and Maggie? While their marriage was basically arranged by Powers's father, I think love grew between Maggie and Powers as they shared the burden of their past. There is attraction from the very beginning and I'm glad the author didn't take the easy way and had them fall in love too early in the story -- there's a very real conversation that happens between Powers and Maggie in Chapter 28 and it's a beautiful reflection of the kind of relationship that they have: imperfect, but honest.

"I can forgive you for selling yourself, Margaret. Most women do. And I can't stop loving you."

"Then?" she asked, a note of desperation straining her voice.

"We've discussed it before, my darling. Love doesn't always bring happiness. I had hoped perhaps we'd be different, but ..."

She grabbed his hand. "I did sell myself. I suppose you could even say I sold my child, but I had good reason. I would never do such a thing without it."

His heart broke for both of them.
- Chapter 28

This is the third book in Claremont's Mad Passions series and, with each instalment, Claremont's momentum doesn't falter: each story shows different aspects of this arduous journey from addiction to recovery and Eva, Mary and Powers each take a different path to get to where they are now.

My one complaint is the abruptness of the ending. The subplot of Maggie's brother, James, and the Irish problem ran parallel to Maggie's story, but, while Maggie's story was resolved well, her brother's story was left hanging and unfinished.

To find out more about Maire Claremont and her books, click below:
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