Friday, June 26, 2015

ARC Review: The Beautiful One by Emily Greenwood

Click here to pre-order the book on Amazon, release date: June 2, 2015
Click here to pre-order the paperback at The Book Depository

Anna Black has had her image stolen from her, and the villain wants more. Her trust and privacy betrayed, Anna is now hiding under a different name and identity, hoping to shake off the men who are pursuing her. The Beautiful One is a painting of Anna, that she had neither willingly posed for or known about -- until it was presented to her by the Marquess of Henshaw, who plans to showcase the painting and reveal Anna's identity during his annual ball. But the painting is not complete, and Henshaw wants Anna back. Anna has hidden herself safely at Rosewood, a finishing school and she'd been content with her life -- until she was tasked to accompany a student back to her guardian.

Anna had hoped to deliver the student and then quickly return to Rosewood, but the situation proves to be more complicated: the Viscount Grandville is still grieving over the death of his wife, and wants to be left alone. Lizzie is his late wife's niece, and the daughter of Will's best friend. He had thought he could keep the girl at arms length by sending her away to school and paying for her bills, but Lizzy has a different plan for herself. Unhappy with Rosewood, she planned a rendezvous with a gentleman, knowing that she would be caught and then expelled. She had hoped her uncle would allow her to stay with him -- but his response wasn't what she had expected.

Anna has to serve as mediator between uncle and niece, and finds herself getting slowly and more deeply involved with both her ward, and her ward's guardian. With the unveiling of The Beautiful One drawing ever closer, Anna realises just how much she stands to lose if she doesn't act quickly.

My favourite aspect of this book is that Emily Greenwood decided to take a different approach to her heroine's problem -- indirectly. Like the Sword of Damocles, the threat of Anna's identity revealed (and ruined) loomed menacingly over her, Instead of focusing on the pursuit/chase and the thwarting of the villain, the author decided to show that Anna had other problems (and the other aspects of her life) to consider as well -- making the threat a shadow that followed Anna. I think it added to the suspensefulness of the story: When would Will discover Anna's true identity? When would The Beautiful One be unveiled? What will happen next?

In the meantime, life went on. Emily Greenwood weaves a complex domestic drama:

Lizzie is Will's niece by marriage. It's difficult for Will to have Lizzie in his house, a constant reminder of his beloved wife. Will can't help his attraction and fascination for Anna, and vice versa. Anna tries to maintain a respectful distance between her and Will, because of her secret and out of respect for Will's late wife, who is portrayed as a paragon. Then Will's stepmother, Judith, and Will's brother, Tommy, enter the picture.

I thought the author was planning to pursue a secondary love story between Tommy and Lizzie, because their initial meeting had sparks -- but it doesn't seem to be the case. Which leads me to one of the few problems in the story:

***** SPOILER ALERT *****
***** SPOILER ALERT *****
***** SPOILER ALERT *****
***** SPOILER ALERT *****
***** SPOILER ALERT *****

Lizzie overhears a conversation between Will and his brother, and it devastates her. This scene scream for a confrontation between Lizzie and Tommy, but it never happens. There is a resolution to this particular issue, but it seemed vague -- I'm not sure if there was an apology, but I'm certain there was no forgiveness. I don't know if this is something the author plans to develop in future stories, but this felt a bit lacking in this particular story.

Lizzie confused me, actually. And I think I'm meant to be confused. She is 17, and an orphan. Her closest living relative is a man who doesn't want her, so I understand her outrageous behaviour, but there doesn't seem to be anything consistent about her. (Except her desire to go back to Malta.) Does she have hidden depths, and only pretending to be vapid and shallow? What is it that she truly wishes to happen? I ask these questions because I wondered about her behaviour in some chapters of the book. (When she dressed and acted seductively. When, in anger, she broke that part of one of Will's statues. Etc. We know there's brokenness within her, but I'm trying to figure out what is her motivation.)

With the generous allowance she began receiving from her uncle, she'd buried her grief under mounds of pretty clothes, the kinds of things a poor churchman's daughter would never have owned. And she'd set herself learning every bit of the reviled deportment. The girls at Rosewood didn't laugh at her anymore, but by then she hadn't wanted their shallow friendship. Gentlemen were better.
- loc 403

***** END OF SPOILER *****

I was also a bit concerned about how the love story between Will and Anna was developing. I loved, loved, loved their initial meeting and was expecting the sort of sparky chemistry you see when grumpy meets sassy. I started wondering about Will during their second encounter -- Will isn't really a hero I could sympathise with. I was very surprised when he propositioned Anna (and believed she could be "bought" if the price was right.) I could not shake the feeling that he never saw Anna as anything more than ...

"Not for my ward," he said, wanting to stop himself from saying one more wicked word even as he gave in to the despair that told him nothing mattered anymore. "For me."

A pause as realisation dawned and color flooded her face. "I cannot believe you would propose such a thing."

Her breathing had quickened, and a distant part of his mind was shouting that he was a devil and he'd shocked her horribly. But he was unmoored from that man now. He reached up and put his palm against her cheek. Dear God, the soft warmth of a woman's skin, the give of her smooth flesh.

He read mutiny in her eyes as she pushed his hand away. "How dare you!"

"I'm willing to make it worth your while. You have the look of someone who would put a hundred pounds to good use."

His answer was a forceful slap that left his cheek burning, as alive to sensation now as the hand that had touched her.
- loc 288

On the other hand, I really appreciated how he saw through Anna's drabness and found Anna's beauty. I have to say that one aspect of Will that I really appreciated was his sense of responsibility to his family. He maintained a good relationship with his brother and their cousins, which is a contrast to Anna's own relationship with her father.

It's interesting to see how Anna never saw herself as beautiful -- her father was more interested in Anna's brain than her physical appearance, and Anna never had to worry or fuss about herself. I loved how she slowly came to the realisation of her full value -- not just her mind (her father). Not just her face and body (the Marquess of Henshaw). But her full being. Will is partly responsible for this, but I think Will's stepmother, Judith, and Lizzy also contributed to her awakening.

Her gown really did look like boiled dust. And for the first time, she cared.
- loc 1841

I'm trying to think of how to conclude this review. Did I like the book? Yes. While it wasn't without flaws, I could see the author's intentions and the story was resolved well. Anna, especially, was an interesting heroine and, perhaps, the greatest asset of this story. Of all the characters, hers was the most fully formed and most understandable.

The Beautiful One is book 1 of Emily Greenwood's new The Scandalous Sisters series, and releases on July 2, 2015. To find out more about Emily Greenwood and her books, click below:

Disclosure: I received this ARC through Netgalley. Thank you to Sourcebooks Casablanca and Emily Greenwood for the opportunity. Yes, this is an honest review.



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