I’m on holidays! Yay! And I am on a big, huge, catch up readorama! Now that my marking is finished, I presented my conference paper a few days ago and my July paper is 90% complete, I feel at ease reading without guilt!
This book is the 4th in the Wild Quartet but the first one that I have read from this series. The story is of Jane Grey, who is actually a member of the French aristocracy, Lady Jeanne de Falleron, who managed to escape the guillotine in the early 19th century. Sadly, the rest of her family – her parents and both her younger sisters – were executed on the eve of their planned escape to England. Jane’s sole purpose is to avenge her family’s deaths by killing the Englishman who betrayed them and didn’t get them out of France. The hero, Julian Fortescue, is the man who is responsible for her family’s death. There is nothing spoilerish in what I have just written. All this is given to the reader in both the blurb and the first few chapters. I’m not going to give you a blow-by-blow account of this book but I do have some words I need to write.
Firstly, for me, the best writing is that which can twist you to pieces despite the fact that you know what the outcome of a book will be. Here is a romance where I know that there will be a Happily Ever After. But how on earth will this be achieved when the hero is responsible for the death of 4 members of the heroine’s family. How on earth do two people overcome this seemingly insurmountable problem. For me, this was the absolute driving force reading through this novel. These two characters build up a beautiful, caring relationship. One of humour and understanding as well as deep desire for each other so when the moment of realisation comes to Jane that Julian, the man she loves, is the man she is seeking to kill it becomes that low, low moment, the deepest, darkest place a romance novel needs to take you to so that the love redemption can feel triumphant. That low moment in this wonderful book had me weeping. Jane for her losses and Julian for his complete supplication. He lay himself at her feet, his grovel was beyond a grovel. It was a raw and heartbreaking.
Julian is a hero that is deeply flawed however he is a kind and funny man. I felt that his own loss, with a stepfather that beat him and a mother who though loved him, did not put him (or her daughters) ahead of her husbands and the impact of his abuse as a child was not explored enough in this story. The epilogue felt a bit flat for me, too. It was a snapshot of all the couples from the whole series some years later but I felt it took away from the deeply sad romance I had just experienced.
But it was Jane’s loss in this book that devastated me. Her nightmares in imagining her little sisters being executed upset me deeply. Jane gets access to Julian as he has 3 younger sisters who need a governess. Taking care of his sisters bring painful memories to Jane of her own younger sisters and their relationship drives much of the story and indeed contributes to showing her loss. Large loss has deep impacts in life. It is hard to move beyond the sadness that it leaves over you. I have not had such a loss. My father did die over 20 years ago, and I miss him terribly but he was ill and his passing was not unexpected. However, my grandmother, and by default my own mother, had more loss in her life than anyone else I know (Angela’s Ashes pales in comparison). My grandmother was orphaned (both parents) at 17, separated from 2 of her 3 sisters, twice widowed, she outlived 8 of her 12 children (one died in infancy – the rest: in battle, catatonic shock after bombings, in childbirth, after war wounds, meningitis and the others due to unknown illnesses). She survived WWII (including her village being bombed by the Germans on 3 occasions), the Greek civil war, 2 of her children (including my mum) being kidnapping by guerrila soldiers and some awful atrocities. My mum still cries for her siblings, particularly now that she is older and is unable to be physically busy to keep her mind off her memories. My grandmother’s losses make me wonder how she remained kind and calm. My grandmother’s breathing always had a startle. Every few minutes, she would gasp in memory. Reading this book just made me so sad because, no matter the promise of a Happily Ever After, I can’t help but think that both the hero and heroine will still not be able to ever recover an equilibrium of breathing. Those nightmares they both have may disappear only during their first few years but when they are old, it is inevitable that their memories will still haunt them.
This book was ever so beautiful. Because at least when they are old together they can hold hands and understand each other’s pain everytime there is a startle in their breathing.
I borrowed a copy of this book from a public library in NSW.