Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Review: The Madness of Lord Westfall by Mia Marlowe


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I really enjoyed the first book in Mia Marlowe's Order of the Muse series, and I've been waiting for the second book to come out. When it did, I was able to muster a bit of willpower and waited for the third book to come out, because, I knew that, after reading Pierce's book, I would want to read the third book IMMEDIATELY -- and, that's exactly what happened.

In terms of "superpowers", many would think Pierce Langdon, Lord Westfall, has a really great one: his ability allows him to hear people's deepest darkest thoughts. I could think of a million ways that Pierce could use his talent to take advantage of people, but, in reality, Pierce sees what he has as a great burden, and he's had to train with the Duke of Camden in order to build a wall to block out the invasion of other people's thoughts.

Pierce is such a great character -- he spent most of his formative and adult years locked away in Bedlam, and, before that, he lived in the countryside, so he hasn't really had any real experience of the outside world. Ever since he was liberated from Bedlam by the Duke of Camden, Pierce has worked with MUSE within the safe confines of their house/headquarters. But now Pierce is needed in the field, to locate an object with psychical powers, that the Duke suspects will be used against the Prince Regent. It's a rare, and unwanted, moment for Pierce, who is happy to live away from people -- but, he knows he owes the Duke his life, and so he risks succumbing to madness and ventures out to help MUSE with its latest mission.

Pierce finds himself inside the mind of Lady Nora Claremont, a famed courtesan.

This is where it gets very interesting, because Pierce has had no previous knowledge of Nora, he sees and accepts her without any prejudice or regard for the past. For Nora, this is a godsend: for the first time in her life, someone is seeing her beyond her youthful mistakes and her tarnished reputation. At the same time, Nora, while a member of the aristocracy, but has long been exiled from it, had never heard of Pierce, or of his life. Maybe it's a strange choice of words to describe a "madman" and a courtesan, but there's a heartbreaking innocence to their encounter. It is a clean slate for both our hero and heroine, and a chance for them to show the other their real identity.

... "Have I offended you in some way, sir?"

If not, it wasn't for lack of trying. Something about him made her uncomfortable. She'd be just as happy if this man left Albemarle's party. He wasn't the jovial sort Benedick Albemarle usually cultivated at his routs.

"No, you've given me no cause for offense. Though I suspect the world has offended you more than once," he said. "I am sorry for it. You deserve a full measure of respect."

That took her aback. While she was arguably the most sought after high-flyer in London, no one had ever cared if they offended her.
- loc 204 - 215

It's innocent meets jaded, as Pierce disarms Nora with his earnestness. Nora has never met anyone like Pierce, who genuinely appreciates her and talking to her. Most men of her acquaintance only want one thing from her. It's a challenge for Pierce not to listen to Nora's thoughts -- again, this is a testament to Pierce's heart -- he could easily just read her mind and become her ideal person. But he would rather try on his own, without the use of his powers. I loved imagining the delight in a new beginning, a fresh start, for both of them. In Pierce's case, it was a revelation to him that he could be with someone, and that someone could love and accept him -- "madness" and all. It is rare in historical romances for the hero to be the one to discover love for the first time, but that is the case with Pierce -- and it is a breathtaking moment.

Nora looked up, aware that most men loved to catch a woman in this state. She was wearing half-dress, her hair unbound, her expression appropriately dewy-eyed and hopeful after supposedly letting Byron's lush verses surge over her.

"Hullo, Westfall," she said.

"Your book is upside down."

"Oh!" She laid it aside as quickly as if it were a viper.

"But you looked lovely pretending to read it. I assume that was the point, so, well done."
- loc 1076 to 1086

But things were never easy for Pierce or Nora, who have had to fight to survive up to this point, so it comes as no surprise that their own relationship would prove to be a seemingly insurmountable struggle: Nora is in an arrangement with Lord Albemarle, and Pierce is investigating him. The weakest part of the story is the psychical object, which is Fides Pulvis, which allows the user to control whoever consumes the powder.

"Trust Powder. One pinch and whoever takes it from me will believe whatever I tell them is gospel. Damned handy thing in the right hands."
- loc 545

The plan is to slip some in the Prince Regent's drink, and then control his decision regarding the ..., which would, therefore, extend the armed conflict between France and England. Part of me wasn't convinced that the truth powder was a game changer, if it was ever used on the King. Maybe it's a lack of explanation or history/backstory on the powder -- but, it just felt, harmless to me. But, it does create a very complex test of love and loyalty for the characters in the story: Nora loves Pierce and wants to help him, but she understands Lord Albemarle's situation and why he has the Fides Pulvis. It's a crisis of priorities and sides, and it falls on Pierce to make the correct judgments -- he is in an intimate position to know Nora's thoughts, but does he have to share these discoveries with the Duke of Camden? Is his love for Nora greater than the needs of his country?

But the Sensory Extraordinaires believed that it would change the tides of history, and they all put themselves on the line in order to locate it. Mia Marlowe uses Pierce's story to develop Meg Anthony's story a bit. She's a "finder" and little else is known of her -- Marlowe delves a little bit deeper into her history and explains her abilities a little bit more. (Yes, when I finished Pierce's book, I immediately started reading Meg's book.)

What I love about this series is this: while the stories have a touch of paranormal in them, Marlowe uses it as a vehicle to highlight the very, very human needs and wants of the Sensory Extraordinaires. Lord Stanstead needed to feel hope, Lord Westfall needed to feel wanted and accepted, the Duke of Camden needs closure, and Vesta needs the Duke's love.

The Madness of Lord Westfall is Book 2 of the Order of the MUSE series by Mia Marlowe. To find out more about Mia and her books, click below:

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