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The story begins with a deathbed scene where Nell promises her dying sister that she would find her sister's seducer and avenge her. With her final breath, Dorothy says the name of the man guilty of her downfall: the Marquess of Leath.
I was very intrigued by the revenge-arc of Anna Campbell's latest Sons of Sin story, and really enjoyed the first third of it: Leath is suspicious of his mother's new companion, who appeared out of nowhere and had quickly ingratiated herself to the Marchioness -- rising up from the ranks from maid to companion. Anna Campbell establishes the situational irony very well: we know that Leath is not responsible for Dorothy's predicament -- it was his evil uncle who used Leath's name -- the suspense of when and how Nell would discover this information made for very rapid page-turning.
She couldn't believe Dorothy had deceived her -- her half-sister's dying words had rung with anguish and burning sincerity. But still Nell couldn't match the Leath she came to know with the man who so callously had destroyed an innocent girl.
Her desperation to find the diary built to a frenzy. Hatred alone gave her courage to carry out her scheme. She didn't want to think how Leath's sternness softened when he smiled at her ladyship. She needed instead to remember Dorothy lying quiet and unmoving after breathing her last.
- p. 44
But, then, attraction and desire come into the picture, and the author seems to have forgotten the initial project: focusing instead on the "will they or won't they?" and on class difference as well.
...The Marquess of Leath can't marry his housemaid and expect society to shrug its shoulders. You'd lose all the respect you've earned as a future leader of the nation. And a woman as proud as Nell would rankle at the world's disdain.
- p. 234
The middle part of the book drags a bit with the author trying to find ways for Leath and Nell to interact -- there's a point where Nell actually becomes Leath's secretary. I felt a bit frustrated at this point because I felt the revenge storyline was going very well. I also got a bit confused when the other Sons of Sin appear in Leath's novel -- they are not friends, and Leath is not a "son of sin" -- on one hand, it ties in Leath's story with the Duke of Rothermere, and it was wonderful to revisit Sidonie again (who remains my favorite from this series) ... but I could not help but feel that their appearance just muddled up the story a bit. (They did serve to encourage Nell to reconsider her relationship with Leath.)
"... I just want you to know that you're not the first woman to fall in love with a man she believes is impossibly out of reach. If you need advice or help or a shoulder to cry on, I'm offering my friendship."
- Lady Harmsworth to Nell, p. 322
I felt as though there were a lot of unanswered questions, particularly with Nell: we know she was a sergeant major's daughter, but it does not explain how she was educated -- and how strong her relationship was with Dorothy. (I assume it was a strong bond, because Nell was willing to carry out the revenge.) We don't know what she was doing before entering the Leath's household, etc. I also wonder of Leath's mother, who seems to be in frail health -- but it's never said what she is suffering from.
The story continues with the introduction of a villain (Greengrass, Leath's late uncle's cohort) who has been trying to blackmail Leath. Granted this is connected to Nell's quest for her sister, and it does give a sense of ow much deeper the threat goes -- but what it did for me is reveal the gaps and oversights in Leath's life: considering he as been grooming himself to become prime minister, he hadn't really done due diligence in keeping his own family in check and their reputation pristine. Instead, what we discover is that Leath's uncle has been allowed to despoil innocents all across England using Leath's name. It seems to have gone on for quite a while, and no one was able to inform Leath of this.
Which leads me to imagine the other path Leath could've taken in his dream of becoming prime minister: even without his sister's scandal or Nell, his dream was doomed to fail because of his uncle. This, perhaps, is the unexplored aspect of Leath's life -- despite the "perfection" and legitimacy of his birth, it does not save him from suffering through life's challenges as well.
A Scoundrel by Midnight is book 4 in the Sons of Sin series. To find out more about Anna Campbell and her books, click below: