Monday, 19 March 2018

#CBR10 Book 22: "The Sins of Lord Lockwood" by Meredith Duran

Page count: 368 pages
Rating: 4 stars

William "Liam" Devaliant, the fifth Earl of Lockwood, is overpowered and kidnapped on his wedding night in Scotland, taken south and chained onto a prison hulk on its way to Australia. No one believes his mad story about being an earl, or if they do, they don't care. Four years later, he's back in London, a very changed man, determined to enact his revenge on the man behind the plot to have him abducted, his own cousin. All the male retainers in his household are basically former convicts who survived along with them. In the eight months since his return to London, he's become famous for his lavish entertainments. Lockwood had not expected the arrival from Scotland of his headstrong and very angry wife, who believes he abandoned her all those years ago and has now come back mainly to spend her money irresponsibly and recklessly.

Anna Winslow, Countess of Forth and a Scottish heiress in her own right, wasn't planning on falling for the handsome, yet penniless Earl of Lockwood, yet his charm and easygoing nature was irresistible to her. Orphaned at a young age, and passed around her many relatives, Anna became used to taking care of herself. While she suggested a marriage of convenience with Lockwood (she needed a husband to get ownership of an island, he needed money for his estates), she'd started believing that he cared for her as she had begun to do for him. She certainly didn't expect him to abscond with a large sum of money before they'd even had a chance to consummate the marriage. When news greets her that her husband's been in London for the past eight months, spending her money on all manner of extravagances, she shows up to confront him.

The happy and carefree man she met four years ago is gone. The current Lockwood, while he tries to feign nonchalance is clearly also trying to get Anna to return to Scotland as quickly as possible, and she can tell there's a lot of rage just under the surface of his carefully controlled temper. When Lockwood is suddenly taken ill, possibly poisoned, Anna finally discovers why her husband disappeared and begins to learn the extent to his scars, both physically and emotionally. She comes to understand just how wrong she's been in her anger against him and how much time has been stolen from both of them, and wants vengeance against the man who wronged them just as much as her husband does. She's also determined to prove to her husband that while he's been through hell while he was away, his scars don't make him any less of a man, rather the opposite. She loves her husband and will fight for her marriage, no matter what it takes.

While I don't remember all that much about it, as I read the book way back in 2009, the Earl of Lockwood shows up as a supporting character in Meredith Duran's debut novel, The Duke of Shadows. It seems some Duran fans have been waiting for her to tell Lockwood's story since 2008, when the book first came out. As far as I could tell, some of the plots of these two books run concurrently, so I may have to revisit the book just to see exactly at what points they intersect. Last year's A Lady's Code of Misconduct can be seen as a prequel of sorts to this, set somewhat earlier, where the plot against Lockwood is actually discovered.

This book starts with Lockwood onboard the prison hulk and alternates between telling the story of his and Anna's courtship, with the sections set four years later, when Lockwood is working on his revenge. Meredith Duran does not write fluffy, amusing, easy to digest romances. She tends to have a fair amount to a whole lot of angst in her books, with tormented and frequently deeply flawed characters trying their best to find some semblance of happiness. While the sections of the book dealing with the courtship are lovely enough, there's a lot of pain and darkness in the rest of the book and Lockwood has some serious PTSD to work through, which is difficult in this day and age, let alone in a time where men were not supposed to feel or show weakness, loss of control or vulnerability. The years spent in Australia were hell on Earth for Lockwood and his men, and he suffers from occasional panic attacks without knowing what they are or how to properly deal with them.

Anna is a great heroine and while there's the occasional trope in romance that the hero will demand an heir, here it is the lady who is in need of legitimate offspring. Due to strange family superstition, the island that Anna loves so dearly can only be in the possession of a married woman, which is why she needs a husband in the first place. While her English holdings and much of her money is controlled by her husband after their marriage, she still retains control of her Scottish properties and requires an heir to keep them. She has no intention of passing them down to some cousin. While she is heartbroken and bitter at the beginning of the book, believing her husband left her to travel the world for three years, merrily spending her money, she still demands her dues from him. Lockwood doesn't want her to see how broken he really is and certainly doesn't want her involved in his revenge scheme, so is quite happy to have her continue believing he is a heartless, opportunistic cad, as the story of how he disappeared sounds too preposterous to be believed. It's only when he's unconscious, and she sees the scars all over his body that he's worked so hard to hide that she begins to understand that he might not have been lying when he initially (making it sound like a tall tale) told her where he'd been since their wedding night.

While I loved the interplay between Lockwood and Anna, I thought the villain of the piece was rather uninspiring and the parts later in the novel, dealing with his comeuppance were less interesting to me than the couple finding their way back together. The Count of Monte Christo this ain't. Duran continues to be a reliable romance author whose books I enjoy. I'll be interested to see what she writes next.

Judging a book by its cover: Lovely as the colours on this cover are, and big thumbs up for having a cover model with the correct hair colour, this silk concoction just does not seem like anything the very pragmatic and practical Anna would ever wear. Frankly, I'm not entirely sure if she's wearing a dress or has just draped herself in emerald green sheets. Then again, having the cover model wearing sensible tweed or grey wool probably wouldn't sell as many books.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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