Thursday, July 3, 2014

Review: Lady Falls by Renee Bernard

Lady Falls by Renee Bernard
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Raven Wells and the Earl of Trent's relationship reminds me a bit of Estella and Miss Havisham from Charles Dickens's Great Expectations: both girls were seen as weapons of revenge by their benefactors, and their education and upbringing were all to prepare them for the day of reckoning, when the Earl of Trent and Miss Havisham would get their much-anticipated revenge.

In Raven's case, the Earl of Trent was seeking revenge against Sir Phillip Warrick, a former business partner who betrayed his trust and friendship by sleeping with his mistress. Raven is ready to make her bow in society and the Earl of Trent is ready to put his plan into action. Everything happens at a house party, which Trent hosts, and he has one simple instruction to Raven: to pay some attention to Sir Phillip during the house party.

Lady Falls is an interesting study of human nature. The Earl of Trent is a master manipulator and it was frightening how subtly Trent used Raven's natural lust for life against her and Phillip. Even at the orphanage, Raven was a free-spirited young girl, and she has blossomed into a woman with her own mind and opinions. She's so intelligent and well-read and sharp-witted, and I admired how she stood up to Lady Baybrook and Lord Morley.

"Tell me, Miss Wells. Trent is your guardian but what is your connection to his family?" Lady Baybrooke asked.

Snap. Snarl.

"He is a generous benefactor, Lady Baybrook. I have been told very little of my noble lineage but understand that he knows my father and took me in for the sake of that friendship."

Lady Baybrooke raised a single eyebrow at the words 'noble lineage'. "And your mother? Do you know anything of her?"

Her claws are razor sharp.

"I am not at liberty to say, Lady Baybrook."

"How mysterious! And somewhat intriguing! The by-product of some illicit affair, I would warrant."

Mrs. Carlton gasped, not in disapproval of Raven but mortified at Lady Baybrook's lack of sensitivity.

Raven kept her chin up, her gaze openly defiant and proud. She wasn't going to justify the woman's words or protest at being one breath away from being called a bastard. Trent had taught her better than that. He'd hammered home the lesson that only shameless icy bravado could carry you through fire. ...
- pp. 58-59

The Earl of Trent's character eludes me a bit and, I think, Sir Phillip's assessment of him was spot-on:

"... Your guardian's mood is too erratic to chart and I'm worried that even your glittering night of readings is not going to make a dent."
- p. 252

On one hand, I loved the education she gifted to Raven and how he allowed her to develop her own ideas. I love how he defended her against their guests at the house party. On the other hand, I could not help but think if it was all part of his plan. That he didn't care about Raven at all.

Sir Phillip wasn't that interesting or someone I could sympathise with, to be honest -- I think his role in this particular story is minor and seemed to just be the means by which to move the story of revenge forward. I have to question his sense of honour, though -- because Raven, by society's standards, was not yet "out" and should have been off limits, but Phillip didn't seem too bothered that he had succumbed to her innocent charms and seemed to justify his actions by saying that he would marry her.

I've always seen "house parties" as a bit problematic in historical romances, because they border on boring, and I don't really enjoy reading about how the characters come up with ways to amuse themselves. (In Lady Falls, there is a scavenger hunt and a Shakespearean performance by the ladies of the party) -- but Renee Bernard puts this particular house party to good use: exposing the abusive relationship and marital problems of Lord and Lady Morley, as well as introducing Raven (and us) to a wide gamut of characters: from the very sweet and loving Mr. and Mrs. Carlton, to Mr. Sheffield and Lady Baybrook. The latter two make an interesting contrast (or is it parallelism?): Mr. Sheffield is very pro-male and very macho and arrogant about how ladies should behave in society. Lady Baybrook is also quite outspoken about how ladies should behave. Considering how Lady Baybrook is seen as a leader in society, I find her opinions a bit ironic and very sad.

Did I enjoy this story? Yes. I think the Morley subplot helps keep the story interesting.

Did this story meet expectations? I have to say I had very different expectations coming into this story, especially after reading the blurb and the author's notes. There is no "happy ending" to this story, and it actually sounds like a very long introduction/set-up to the actual story of revenge. The second instalment, Lady Rises, is coming out in July, and will be about what happens to Raven after Trent reveals his plan and after Phillip reacts to the revelation. The author refers to Raven as a "sexy, dark villainess" in her author's notes and as a "kickass heroine" in her blog: I'm very curious about whose "ass" Raven intends to kick. ^_^

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