Saturday, August 16, 2014

ARC: What a Lady Most Desires by Lecia Cornwall


Click here to pre-order the book on Amazon, release date: August 26, 2014
Click here to pre-order the paperback at The Book Depository

There are two things I really enjoyed in Lecia Cornwall's What a Lady Most Desires:

First is the mythical element in Stephen Ives's story:

Stephen Ives enjoyed a stellar career as a diplomat and as a soldier. He has risen through the ranks and is now Major Lord Ives of the Royal Dragoons, but, like Icarus, who rose too high, dreamt too big, got too close to the sun, and fell to earth, Stephen's fall from grace is staggering: he is gravely injured in battle, wakes up to discover that he has lost his eyesight and that there are claims of dishonourable behaviour against him.

Stephen has, literally and figuratively, lost it all -- it is only through the kindness of his friend, Nicholas, the Duke of Temberlay, that he is allowed to recuperate quietly before he faces court martial. I have to admit that I found the scenes of Stephen's convalescence at Temberlay a bit dragging, but I knew it was to show the gradual growth of Stephen's affection for Delphine -- an indication of the transformation that he is undergoing. The stay at Temberlay was also meant to be "the calm before the storm" that is Stephen's impending trial.

While her kindness and compassion are laudable, I was a bit uncomfortable with Delphine's infatuation with Stephen Ives: granted he's a handsome man and has worked hard to achieve his success, but I don't think she really knows him. She doesn't even know the story of Julia or of Stephen's family -- how could she confidently and unequivocally say that "he is the one" for her? It was worrisome how she would always think of Stephen in terms of his appearance. Perhaps that is part of the fairy tale that Lecia Cornwall is building upon -- and it's very interesting that it is the hero who is going through the transformative journey, which would explain why Delphine's character isn't as fully fleshed out. And which would also explain why _her_ falling in love is _not_ the central focus, but Stephen's.

His eyes were still clear and fray and intelligent, his countenance as handsome. The cuts and bruises left by the battle had healed, leaving a few small scars, which would fade.
- loc 1690

I expressed this concern when I read The Secret Life of Lady Julia in that the romance seems to take a secondary role in this story. As with Lady Julia, the focus of this story is really Stephen's redemption. Delphine and Stephen spend a lot of time together in Temberlay, and there's a real sense of companionship and friendship that grows between the two -- but, was it love? Lecia Cornwall presents a very unexpected kind of love in What a Lady Most Desires -- from the onset Delphine didn't seem to be impressed by the romantic gestures of other gentlemen and wasn't affected by their passionate promises and overtures, and she was very wary of men pursuing her for her money and connections, longing for a more authentic connection.

"I have lived my whole life pleasing the expectations of others. I have been compelled by breeding, by my sex, by the expectations of others to behave a certain way, to feel certain things, to hold the opinions and ideals of my class and my family. I am a disappointment, I fear, because I cannot live that way. ..."
- loc 3094

Stephen didn't even like Delphine to begin with. He isn't a boastful or arrogant man, but there's a certain amount of conceit in him -- maybe as a result of working as a diplomat and needing to gauge people by their appearance -- that allows him to quickly judge people and categorise them as either worthy (of his esteem) or not. Lady Delphine St. James falls into the latter category for Stephen -- he sees her as flighty and shallow and not really worth his time and attention.

It was his job to observe people, understand them, and after his mistaken first impression, Stephen saw the haughty Lady Delphine for what she was: the outspoken daughter of an outspoken political father, a Tory debutante, a wealthy marriage prize for a titled man with the proper political and social connections, and the cast fortune it would take to keep her.
- loc 279

Similar to Lorraine Heath's heroine in Once More, My Darling Rogue, something drastic needed to happen to Stephen Ives for him to make the important discoveries in his life. Heath used amnesia and Cornwall used blindness, which is quite ironic: Stephen needed to lose his sight in order to see clearly the things of value, and to realize the true friends that he has. When he wakes up blind, he has lost the one faculty that helped him do his job as diplomat very well, then he discovers that he is being discredited and whispers of cowardice and theft are being floated about... Stephen is clearly a man who has hit rock bottom, and it is slow and steady struggle to get back on his feet that made me keep turning the next page.

The second thing I liked is the fabular element in Stephen Ives and Alan Browning's relationship:

The story of Alan Browning and Stephen Ives reminded me so much of Aesop's The Lion and the Mouse, Stephen saved Alan's life during the battle in Brussels, but Alan lost the ability to talk. Like the lion, Alan wants to repay the kindness that was extended to him, so, when he found out Stephen was blind, he offered his services and became Stephen's valet. While the world had shunned Stephen Ives and treated him like a disease, Alan Browning stayed by his side.

Now how could the same man who saved a fellow soldier on the field of battle be a coward as well? It didn't make sense. Browning didn't know how, but as soon as he was able, he would find out the truth, tell what he knew of things, and do whatever was in his power to repay the debt. He owed Major Ives his life.
- loc 1446

A blind gentleman and his mute valet -- it's heartrending, but also touching to see the bonds of brotherhood between these two men who fought in battle together Brussels who continue to fight a battle together. Alan is also a pivotal character in Stephen's salvation -- he personally witnessed Stephen's bravery in battle, but he does not have the means to express his opinion. Alan goes through a similar journey as his master -- finding his way out of his personal darkness (muteness) in order to save the man who saved him.

Then there is this one thing I didn't like about this story:

It isn't really Stephen who works to clear his name -- it is the people around him: Nick, Alan, and Delphine. Nick is the one writing letters and searching out fellow soldiers to interview them about Stephen. He personally vouched for Stephen to remain in his custody so that he could recuperate at Temberlay and not in prison. Alan Browning is illiterate and mute, but he is learning to find ways to communicate what he had seen in battle. He seeks the help of Delphine, who teaches him his basic letters and the help of the Mr. Brill, the vicar, who helps him use the Bible to speak for him. And there is Delphine, who risked her reputation to stay with him in Temberlay, who came up with ways for Stephen to move around and be more independent despite his blindness, and who found him Alan Browning.

I did not see Stephen Ives as an active agent in this situation, which is a bit disappointing because I really, really liked his character in The Secret Life of Lady Julia and would've wanted to see him rage a bit about the injustices he is suffering.

The highlight of the story is the court martial: Lecia Cornwall did a good job of setting up the conflict for Stephen and we wonder how Stephen Ives would untangle himself from this web of lies -- and the author handles this part very well, satisfying all questions and loose ends. Overall, this was a good read and a wonderful follow-up to Lady Julia's story.

What a Lady Most Desires is the third book in Lecia Cornwall's Temberlay series and will be released on August 26, 2014. To find out more about Lecia Cornwall and her books, click below:
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Disclosure: I received this ARC through Edelweiss. Thank you to Lecia Cornwall and Avon for the opportunity. Yes, this is an honest review.

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