Thursday, April 23, 2020

Cecilia Grant - A Gentleman Undone

Lydia Slaughter understands the games men play—both in and out of the bedroom. Not afraid to bend the rules to suit her needs, she fleeces Will Blackshear outright. The Waterloo hero had his own daring agenda for the gaming tables of London's gentlemen's clubs. But now he antes up for a wager of wits and desire with Lydia, the streetwise temptress who keeps him at arm's length.
A kept woman in desperate straits, Lydia has a sharp mind and a head for numbers. She gambles on the sly, hoping to win enough to claim her independence. An alliance with Will at the tables may be a winning proposition for them both. But the arrangement involves dicey odds with rising stakes, sweetened with unspoken promise of fleshly delights. And any sleight of hand could find their hearts betting on something neither can afford to risk: love.

Comment: In 2017 I read a book by this author, which I didn't enjoy as much as I hoped but that was still a little interesting. That book was the first in a set of stories centered in the Blakshear siblings and at the time I thought I would only read more books by the author after some time. Well, I decided to give it a go again and chose the second book in the series but perhaps I shouldn't have...

In this second book, the story is focused on Will, he is the youngest brother of Martha, heroine to the other book I've read and where the family is introduced.
Will is a war hero and he returns from Waterloo with a mission, to help the widow and the child of a fallen friend to overcome part of the difficulties they now face. Since his own family can't simply afford it and Will owns his own duties, he believes gambling might solve part of his problems but he wasn't counting on finding a fascinating courtesan on the tables. She is lovely, witty, smart but sadly a kept woman he feels he shouldn't be interested in.
Lydia has survived and she now lives the life she has to in order to gain the necessary funds to become independent. However, things change when she meets Will, a man she comes to care about very much but who can't "save" her even though they both look at it as something that could be special. Is there any hope for them despite the low odds?

I think this story has the ingredients to suit me: both characters are a little low in their luck but have very solid reasons to behave in a less than appealing manner and they fall in love despite what society sees in them as individuals.
As it happened with the previous book, the ingredients are there, the ideas too and even the path the characters take isn't that bad. However, for me, the writing style was certainly not inviting to marvel me and I ended up disliking the story.

The story has a good base and the characterization of the main couple has its positive aspects but the way this is written made me think they were consciously negative about too many things. Of course they had reason to, their lives didn't follow a smooth path at all, but the stress was so much on what was wrong for them, I just could not truly believe when they reached happiness. I mean, ok, they found love but would it last, considering the things they had to give up on?
I'd have liked the author to find a way to make their lives a little easier, to give them the hope of something else than love to sustain them. I felt the tone of the story was often too severely negative.

I feel bad, after all I like serious books, I like dramas to be realistic but I also desperately need the fun and the sweetness of redemption, of positivism. I don't think the author conveyed this, even if that was her intention. I'd have liked the end to be a bit more balanced, with a few more good things at least, to level things up with all the downcast and hopelessness the plot threw at the characters.

Will is clearly an honorable man, trying to the right thing but not always with the right method.  He just seemed to be so depressed, so lacking hope... I could not envision him being happy with a situation that would need some kind of uplifting routine to counterbalance that. Yes, I cared for him a little and I liked how he wanted to do what was right about Lydia but I could not see their romance being an everlasting one.

I felt pity for Lydia, she is the personification of how wrongly, unfairly and unkindly women were and have been are mistreated all the time, always being far more guilty of things out of their control than men. I hated her sexual nature had to be what made her survive but to know why and how she got in that situation enraged me. Even more so she felt she had to do it and when I discovered why, I felt even worse for I don't agree with why she did and I hate it when authors use this psychological question to justify why the character chose to behave that manner.

I also didn't like the fact both of them bet their fates on gambling. Yes, I'm aware this was what was possible considering their financial status but added to the fact the heroine was a courtesan and was involved with her keeper while developing feelings for the hero didn't make me like her that much.
I'm glad both Will and Lydia had honor, they still wanted to do the right thing and that is was what "saved" the overall story for me but I didn't connect with them and while reading kept thinking "were this to happen", "had the author chosen this idea" or "why can't they do this..." so I was redoing the plot in my head and I don't think that is the purpose.

I have to conclude the author's style isn't for me. The characters don't seem to have much hope nor the wonders of fiction to help them. 
Real life is hard, everyone knows, and we can't just ignore it or escape it whenever we want, we have to face it. So, I hoped these characters could find a way and it felt sad for me their HEA was achieved at the expense of so many other things.
The tone, the vibe...I don't think this is it for me. It ended up being quite a duty to keep going, to spend time with these characters. I didn't hate the book but I didn't like it either.
Unless something incredible happens, I think I'll remain here, in regards to this author.
Grade: 4/10

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