Thursday 3 October 2013

#CBR5 Book 122. "Scoundrel's Kiss" by Carrie Lofty

Page count: 342 pages
Rating: 3 stars

Gavriel de Marqueda is trying to put his old life as enforcer, thug and hired killer for his ungrateful family. He's sought refuge with a monastic order, swearing vows of chastity, obedience and non-violence. He only needs to succeed in one last task to be accepted as a full member of the order. However, the test he is set might prove to make him break every one of his new vows.

Ada of Keyworth is far away from her English home. She's risking her position as translator to an influential Spanish noblewoman because of her all-consuming craving for opium. When Ada is about to be sold into slavery because of her debts, her young friend begs Gavriel and the other monastic brothers to save her. Gavriel's final task will be to wean Ada off her addiction. Ada resents him immensely, and is determined to escape his care. She also determines to ruin any chance he has of becoming a monk.

Set in 13th Century Spain during the Reconquista (the re-conquering of Spain from the Muslims), Scoundrel's Kiss has a vastly different setting from most romances out there on the market. Instead of Regency ballrooms during the Season, this book takes place mostly in the countryside and small towns of  Medieaval Spain. The heroine has a genuine and debilitating addiction which she's willing to do almost anything to feed, not caring whether it affects her work, her reputation or what it does to her friends. Any time she goes without for any period of time, she has horrible nightmares and suffers dreadful withdrawal. It's a weakness and a character flaw, but Lofty makes you see that there was little she could do to avoid the addiction, having started to take the opium for pain after being held captive and tortured. It also makes her determination never to be held against her will more understandable.

Unfortunately, while the above things were good and different, I didn't really emotionally engage with the book all that much. While Ada's character was somewhat unusual, and fairly well drawn, most of the supporting characters, to a certain extent Gavriel as well, remained more like ciphers. The villains, especially, were rather cartoonish, and both their motivations and their plotting towards the end of the book caused more confusion than tension. I also thought the romance developed in a rather haphazard way. Obviously, in the beginning Gavriel fights very hard to resist Ada, who in return is determined to tempt him into sin, first out of spite and later out of genuine attraction. His decision to abandon his sworn vows comes very suddenly, and seems a bit arbitrary, frankly. So despite the interesting premise and attempts at doing something different in the genre, this book really didn't work for me, and will probably be quickly forgotten.

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