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As I read through Hero of My Heart, I kept seeing Alasdair as a dark pit of despair: riddled with guilt over the death of his wife and his older brother. His guilt manifests itself into terrible nightmares and Alasdair's only peace comes from opium. It is not a situation that a marquess should find himself in, and, so Alasdair has made plans to end his terrible suffering, but his plan is interrupted when an impromptu auction happens at the pub he is in. Alasdair could have chosen to remain indifferent, but when he sees Mary and her helplessness, he knows he needs to rescue her.
Oblivion interrupted: Alasdair never imagined he'd be someone's knight in shining armour. His experience has led him to believe that he brings only death and despair to the people who dare get close to him: his brother, Anthony, died trying to protect him when they went off to war, and his wife, Judith, didn't want him. (She was promised to his older brother before he died.) Alasdair saw Mary as his way of making amends, of making right by the world: and so he quietly married her, brought her to London, launched her successfully into society before proceeding with his original plan.
But he never counted on Mary to be ... Mary.
"You are growing tiresome, Miss Smith. I said no."
Mary straightened herself and glared at him. The moon threw enough light that he had to be able to see her expression. So be it. He should understand that even though he'd bought her, he didn't own her. "Tiresome is when the squire's wife has told the same story at every social gathering, and expects you to marvel at her cleverness each time. Tiresome is realising your father has misplaced his sermon notes again. Tiresome is not, my lord, when a woman has been bought by a marquess who habituates low places where a woman might be sold."
He flung his head back to laugh, then winced as it slammed against the wall. "Ouch." He rubbed his head. "Excellent point."
- Chapter 2
Mary Smith is the illegitimate daughter of a small-town vicar, whose half-brother has gone through their family's savings and has now auctioned Mary off in order to make some money. Mary is more than just a vicar's daughter, and, when her half-brother discovers who Mary's mother is, he sees this as an opportunity to make even more money.
Our hero and heroine have an uphill climb ahead of them:
1. They must deal with Alasdair's addiction to opium.
2. They must deal with Alasdair's cousin, Hugh, who stands to inherit his title and wealth if he can prove that Alasdair is insane.
3. They must deal with Mary's half-brother, Matthias, who is blackmailing Mary.
4. They must deal with Mary's mother, who is a well-established person in society.
And, finally, Mary and Alasdair must deal with each other: their marriage isn't even one of convenience, or mutual gain. They married as strangers, and had not intended on consummating the marriage. But there is an undeniable connection between the two of them: Mary is prepared to explore this, but Alasdair is afraid to hurt Mary if she gets too close.
Hero of My Heart has a very different tone and style from Frampton's What Not to Bare, which I really enjoyed for its wit and humour -- but, I have to say, Hero of My Heart shows another aspect of Frampton's talent: what worked for me is how the author really focused on her tortured hero and his journey to redemption. I've read about opium addiction in other historical romances, but Alasdair's recovery was the most brutal, I think -- because he went cold turkey and Frampton chose to show the agonizing stages of drug withdrawal. (I do question, however, the "treatment/cure" for our hero's withdrawal: he drew comfort from Mary's touch. It does convey quite a romantic message, but I would've wanted a more plausible method.)
..."Why am I here?" she asked, raising her voice to the sky so it echoed in the trees.
Alasdair propped his head up on his hand, regarding her. "Don't you remember? I bought you."
She glared at him and he saw her hands close even tighter. "Not that. I know that. But why am I here? Father always assured me there was a purpose to each and every person on earth, and I used to believe him, but now I don't know."
"Maybe you're here to save me."
- Chapter 10
The author maintains the tension throughout the story as Alasdair and Mary go through the series of conflicts (opium, her half-brother and his cousin, etc), but it's Alasdair and Mary's battle with themselves that I was most interested in. Initially, I didn't quite understand this conflict and wondered about Alasdair's plans. I also felt it was a bit cruel to Mary, who had already endured so much to have to overcome yet another obstacle -- but I understand that Frampton really wanted to test her hero and heroine's resolve and relationship. My one other complaint was how the situation with Mary's mother was resolved. I felt it would've worked as a separate story altogether, and, I thought it would have been Mary's emotional/pivotal moment, but it lost a bit of its friction/strength because it because just one part of a series of events.
The tone of the story is also a bit uneven: it starts out quite dark, but ends with a lighter note, but, overall, this was an engaging read.
Hero of My Heart is Megan Frampton's debut novel. To find out more about Megan Frampton and her books, click below: