The genre of historical romance abounds with rakes and ne’er-do-wells, all waiting to be redeemed by their one, true love. These devices are so plentiful because they often work, allowing an author plenty of spice and anachronistic deviation from “polite society” while bringing the story to a happily-ever-after. Though Anne Stuart doesn’t deviate from these tropes, she does one better; she removes the soft filter lens that smoothes over the warts and bumps of a rake falling in love. RUTHLESS stands out from the crowd not for an unusual premise, but for an unusually well crafted rendition thereof.
At least three of the five stars I awarded RUTHLESS are due to the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad Viscount Rohan. Oh, how I adored him. He professes to be shallow and hedonistic, and he does a credible job of upholding these claims. At his first meeting with our heroine, Elinor, he helps her reclaim her syphilitic mother, not to be good, but to keep the pox from putting a damper on his orgy. I loved the parts of the story that are from his point of view, everything from his version of “how not to be bored at a bacchanal” to him inventing “mood music.” My favorite has to be his thoughts on wearing high heels, a priceless moment. Stuart does a masterful job of creating a devilish hero that I fell in love with for his dark-side as much as for his heroics.
Stuart weaves in many fabulous, gritty details, making Ruthless a modern homage to the titillating, lurid novels our own historical heroines enjoy. No one gets pecked to death by pigeons, but there is madness, murder, debauchery, and menace. Rather than a marathon of graphic sex (which can be satisfying in a different way), RUTHLESS capitalizes on the tension of pursuit to build a dark, tantalizing passion. This grand, gothic novel is one of the best of an entertaining breed, and I think Charlotte Bronte herself would applaud its submission to the genre.
Re-read #1 - RUTHLESS didn't hold up as well the second time around. I suppose once all the secrets are out it's harder to enjoy all the over the top skulking and drama.