Dear Ms. Mallory:
I’ve liked, but not loved, your previous historicals but I felt like all the things I enjoyed of your writing coalesced in this one book. When I’ve described this book to other readers in making the recommendation to read it, I tell them that it reminds me of Vicomte de Valmont in Dangerous Liasons as he plays a dangerous game seducing innocents for no other reason than the mere challenge, only there is no Marquise de Merteuil pushing him. Instead, Maximilian Landry, Viscount Downing’s own boredom and underlying dissatisfaction leads him to seek out the author of a number of passionate letters.
The author is shopgirl, Miranda Chase. In disguise (Miranda mistakes him for a wealthy gentleman not a titled lord), Max flirts with Miranda at her uncle’s bookshop and then conveniently leaves his purchases behind requiring them to be delivered.
Miranda is uncertain of what game Max is playing and she knows something is afoot. She isn’t particularly “witty or wise. She was just Miranda. A girl who liked books.” (As an aside, I think the heroine as a booklover must be one of the most beloved heroine stereotypes because what reader doesn’t automatically love a heroine who loves books?)
In order to lure Miranda into his sphere, Maxmillian offers her the opportunity to catalog his library, full of rare works. He challenges her intellectually by speaking to her of the texts she loves. And he flirts with her. Miranda knows she is out of her league for how can she compete with such blatant come ons:
"A pity. I had so been hoping to call you Miranda.""I can't possibly imagine why."He rose and walked around the desk. She stood still, unwilling to bolt like a scared rabbit as he neared her position. He came within a hairbreadth of touching her before leaning back so he was sitting on the edge of the desk facing her. "It's a lovely name. Quite Shakespearean."She didn't dare breathe because of the short distance between them. "I think you are a tease, my lord.""No, a tease is someone who only promises without following through." His fingers interlocked, and one thumb slowly traced a pattern around the edges of the other. "I guarantee you that I am a man who follows through.”
This romance wouldn’t be interesting if Miranda is a lightweight with no power. Miranda senses the danger, is entranced not only by Max’s words, his knowledge, and the opportunity afforded her yet she knows that access to these things are not without their price.
As Max says at one point “I have made it quite my life’s work to collect beautiful things.” He sees Miranda’s passion for literature as a thing of beauty and wishes to see how vibrant a being she truly is. Initially it seems that he just wants to possess her passion for a moment, as if to live through her. Then, upon spending time with her, he decides that he will elevate Miranda from her shopgirl existence and show her the full enjoyment of her passionate nature. For her own good, of course.
What makes this romance a notch above others is that the characters and their outcome is uncertain, even for a romance. Both Max and Miranda change over the course of meeting each other (the duration of the story). They impact each other, make each other think in different terms. Max goes in wanting to take, believing he needs no one to loving Miranda fiercely but afraid that she doesn’t need him as greatly as he needs her. I particularly appreciated his struggle to find a place for Miranda in what he thought his life should be. Miranda’s own awakening to claim her passion as power is fascinating, even if the impetus is the wicked Max.
There are the questions of whether love is a cruel chain or welcome binding. Loving each other can be as painful as it can be pleasureful. The ending was unexpected but not unwelcome and it made me believe in the certainty of the pairing. This was a happy ever after that I could believe in. B+
This is a mass market published by Avon, an Agency Five publisher