Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Review: Beauty and the Earl by Jess Michaels


Click here to buy the book on Amazon

In the first two books of The Pleasure Wars series, it is the gentlemen who initiate the ladies to the intoxicating world of pleasure. When I finished Pleasuring the Lady and was about to start Beauty and the Earl, I expected it would be Liam who would be the dominant character in the story. Imagine my pleasure when it is Violet who takes the lead.

All of London knows the tragic story of the Rothcastles and the Windburys and all witnessed the current generation's rivalry, which resulted in the death of one's sister and the kidnapping of the other. Christian, the Duke of Rothcastle has found his peace and happily ever after with Ava, but, what about Liam? Because of this feud, Liam has lost the love of his life, and his sister, and now he has nothing left but his scarred and battered body. He has retreated from the world, and plans to retreat even deeper and farther ...

Ava has tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to reach out to her brother. She has come up with an outrageous (and desperate) plan that might just work: send a spy to her brother's household so that she might be kept apprised of his situation. They've chosen the perfect person for the job: Violet Milford is a seasoned courtesan with a reputation for being professional and being discreet. When they approach her with their plan, she doesn't really know whether to accept the offer or not. She has never taken on a titled lover, because of all the complications that come with that world and that life -- but she cannot help but feel for Ava, whose desperation, worry, and sadness are clear. Add to it, the promised sum she would receive for her services would allow her to retire and finally be with her son.

Her plan of attack is simple: maintain professional distance, entice the Earl, gather the necessary information and leave. What Violet doesn't count on is how deeply she would feel for this wounded man, and how much she would come to care for him.

The carriage pulled to a stop, and she shook her head to clear her suddenly spinning mind. Lord Windbury was not going to be her protector. She wasn't really here for him, but for his secrets. Her body was just a way to access these.
- Chapter 3

She's a courtesan who doesn't expect any permanence in her arrangements and he's known for his one-night stands -- it would be the perfect arrangement for the two of them, but, from their very first meeting, they could feel that there was something different about this, about them -- and they were willing to step outside their comfort zone to discover why.

Of the three books, this was the most emotionally-charged story -- I've talked about how I thought Portia would end up with Liam, but, the more I got to know these two characters, the more I realised that they wouldn't suit. There's a lot of pent-up rage and darkness inside Liam -- he needs a strong(er) woman to help him through his pain. Violet is the perfect match for Liam: she's experienced both the cruelty and kindness of the world and she can speak with authority about the losses one endures in living. She is also his match in passion and intelligence. Violet struggles with her conscience as her relationship with Liam deepens -- and it becomes more and more difficult to separate her "work" from herself. Jess Michaels poses a very interesting moral dilemma for her heroine, and I had to think about what I would've done in her situation: to spy on Liam would mean helping him and his sister repair their relationship, but, to spy on Liam would mean ruining her relationship with him. Which is more important? Violet does not even think about herself, but only about Liam and what would, ultimately, bring him the greatest happiness.

She felt loved.

Oh, she knew it was an illusion. That he would not, could not give her his heart. More to the point, she couldn't give him hers. But that didn't matter. This was still an act of love, and she clung to it and to the promises that it made in the quiet of her bedroom.
- Chapter 11

Liam is very candid about his woundedness and most people tread carefully around him, as though he was surrounded by broken glass -- as though he were made of glass. Malcolm conducts his business and is also his closest friend -- and, for the the past year, has also been Liam's constant shadow, fearing that Liam would resort to drastic (suicide) measures. Violet is probably the first person who dared walk directly towards him, to get that close to him. I felt Liam's pain as he watched the happiness of the people around him: Violet, Olivia and Malcolm -- and he couldn't pretend to belong or fit in that world. He lost all joy and happiness when Matilda died, and he knows that he feels something for Violet, but he denies himself that possibility of happiness, because he is all-too aware of how fleeting life is, how temporary love can be.

Beauty and the Earl also deals with class differences and I really felt for Violet, who was so aware of her "place" in the world. When she met with Ava and the Duke of Rothcastle, she was surprised at the very hospitable reception she receives from them.

To her surprise, there was a fresh pot of tea with a few cakes waiting for her, as if she were just a normal guest. But she didn't touch them. Best not to anger a very powerful duke the moment he entered the room.

After all, she knew her place.
- Chapter 1

* * *

"But I know what we are, Olivia. Courtesans cannot love -- we cannot afford it."
- Chapter 7

Even when she was with Liam, she never dared to overstep the boundaries -- and never dared to dream beyond what they had at the moment. I really like reading romances about courtesans and titled gentlemen/lords -- it wasn't just a matter of low vs high class, but about moving in very different worlds, and there is such a great social obstacle to overcome when one falls in love with a courtesan (and vice versa) -- and I wonder if courtesans ever enter into an arrangement with an expectation of marriage. I think, by the very definition of their occupations, they have to repress their dreams and ambitions. Which is why, when love does happen between a gentleman and a courtesan, it is glorious to behold. ^_^

The secondary story between Olivia and Malcolm was also very well done. Olivia, Violet's friend's original purpose was to distract Malcolm -- but she ends up falling in love with him. It's a difficult situation for her to be in, and her loyalty is tested when she had to choose between Violet and Malcolm. Their story is resolved very nicely here, but Jess Michaels is treating fans of the couple to a novella, focused entirely on their love story. (Beautiful Distraction will be released this June!) ^_^

This was a great "ending" to an amazingly, well-crafted series. My thanks to Jess Michaels for this very moving, very thoughtful story.

Beauty and the Earl is the third book in Jess Michaels's The Pleasure Wars series. To find out more about Jess and her books, click below:
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