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REVIEW: Provoked: Enlightenment Book 1 by Joanna Chambers

Dear Ms. Chambers:

Provoked is considerably different from your first two books, and not just because it’s male/male. As I read it, I kept feeling a little off-kilter; it gradually became apparent that this story is not a traditional romance. Although it doesn’t exactly have a cliffhanger ending, it should be considered a first volume, like The Fellowship of the Ring.

Scotland, 1822. David, the son of a poor farmer, has worked his way up in the world and is now an advocate. After witnessing the execution of two of his clients for treason, he’s understandably depressed, and more susceptible than usual to being lured into an alleyway tryst with a handsome stranger. The event has an unexpected effect on him:

David was accustomed to reliving his rare encounters with other men. Usually though, he was mired in regret as he did so. This memory was different. Much as he tried to concentrate on what it had felt like to kneel on the filthy wet ground and give in to his abiding weakness, what he kept remembering was the moment Balfour dragged him to his feet and kissed him. Balfour’s warm, firm lips. His sleek tongue. His solid presence.

And not feeling alone.

David never expects to see Murdoch Balfour again, but their paths keep crossing as David navigates a set-up with a sweet young woman, and helps a client’s brother seek out a betraying agent provovateur. David discovers that Murdo is the opposite of him in almost every way: rich and high ranking, hedonistic instead of ashamed of his desires, and deliberately heedless of anyone’s interests besides his own, while David is moral to the point of self-sacrifice. Nonetheless, he continues to touch David in ways that are more than physical:

For a moment, Balfour simply stared at his outstretched hand, til David felt so uncomfortable he wanted to draw it back. But then Balfour took it, and in one swift movement, turned David’s hand over, palm down, and lowered his head to press a kiss to the back of it.

Balfour’s lips were soft and warm, but the fingers holding David’s hand were strong and determined. The gesture made David feel supremely off-balance. It was typically Balfour: challenging and humorous at once. Making a woman of David with his queer courtliness. It was… romantic.

As this quote shows, the fundamental differences between David and Balfour aren’t the only thing keeping them apart. A product of his culture, David is unable to recognize the possibility of romantic commitment between two men. And he refuses to see how Balfour is growing to feel about him.

The story is told entirely from the point of view of the very likeable and sympathetic David, so we see Balfour only through actions that David doesn’t always understand. That, along with Balfour’s more aggressive character and the fact that he is often off page, gives the book the feel of a classic category romance — or perhaps less a romance than a Bildungsroman. David is dealing with numerous ethical issues as he tries to figure out how to live a principled life, and his “sinful” urges and interactions are only a part of his story.

There are times of great tension and excitement, but Provoked mostly moves at a gentle pace, suiting its gently heroic subject; still, I was never less than thoroughly absorbed in it. And though the multi-book format can be irritating, it made sense here, because this is just one episode of David’s life. I’m looking forward to the progression of his “enlightenment.”

sincerely,

willaful

 

Provoked

Dear Ms. Chambers,

I thought the writing in this book was gorgeous – when I want to stop, reread, taste every word or almost every word.

“A wave of intense sadness and loneliness swamped him. Was there all there was? A few brief moment of connection – the grasp of another’s hand on the scaffold – and then you were cast out, alone, into the great universe?”

While this quote refers to one specific event, I actually think that overall for me it reflected the mood of the book.

I loved that the romance between the main characters was set up during the events that were larger than they were if that makes sense. I do not mind the historical romances which are set in a limited space and give us rare glimpses of the world outside, but I do want to see and learn more about the world outside, not just enjoy the romance. David’s defense of weavers accused of treason set up several interesting plot developments and possible implications for him and Murdo Balfour, which I suspect will play out in the next books of this trilogy. But it also made me think about how many rebellions, revolutions of the past could have been avoided if the people in charge would just tried to do something to improve working people’s conditions before it was too late, before workers just could not deal with the horrors of their existence anymore and everything exploded into violence.

It is in this setting that David and Murdo Balfour meet for the first time. I am not going to tell you the reason why Murdo was in Edinburgh, but you can see that the blurb hints that he could have been the person who betrayed the weavers to the government. I was really impressed that the author managed to make the resolution of that storyline very suspenseful. It was something that mattered to me and I understood why it mattered to David – to know one way or another.

I completely believed in their fast attraction when David and Murdo met, and liked that they still showed enough cautiousness before they acted on it. I liked that initial attraction was seemingly all about sex, because this is all I can believe in when I am confronted with it in the story. It is strange when I am thinking about it in retrospect – it definitely was fast, because they have sex very soon after they meet, but at the same time their conversation felt like such a cautious dance around each other.

David is a POV character in this book, so of course we learn a lot about him, but even though we only see Murdo through David’s eyes, I think we also learn at least a little bit about him. I thought that David was a very multilayered character to me – yes, he experienced a heart break in his past (I think most romance heroes have that in their pasts) and yes, at times he hates that he is attracted to men, which in historical romance is totally understandable to me and actually preferable to “Oh despite society around me condemning the men of my preference, I am totally and completely at peace with who I am”. But the heartbreak that David experienced in the past did not turn into a consuming trauma that stopped him from leaving a productive life in society. This portrayal was a breath of fresh air to me, because so many men in m/m stories seemed defined by their past traumas. David’s past is definitely part of who he is, but he also defines himself as a professional, as somebody who while coming from a modest family worked hard and seemed to have a desire to advance in his profession. I really liked that.

Murdo seemed to me to be a more typical character – “tall, dark, brooding and handsome” I think defined him for me, at least for now. It was interesting to see that while initially it seemed that he was more accepting of his attraction to men, at the end of this book I was really wondering which one of two men was more honest with themselves and accepting of who they were. I wonder if he would be a POV character in the second part of the story, because I really would love to get into his head.

I am always pleased when I see a nuanced portrayal of women in m/m stories and I have to say that this story made me really happy in that sense as well. There are several women in these stories and at least three had enough parts to make me interested in their stories. They are not caricatures, one of them is very likeable and even Isabella just had that potential, even though I did not find her very likeable in this book. But she felt like a human being and that’s all that mattered to me.

As I mentioned previously the book is the first part of the trilogy, so there is no happy ending in this installment, but I heard there definitely will be one at the end.

— Sirius

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Willaful

Willaful fell in love with romance novels at an early age, but ruthlessly suppressed the passion for years, while grabbing onto any crumbs of romance to be found in other genres. She finally gave in and started reading romance again in 2006, and has been trying to catch up with the entire genre ever since. Look for her on twitter or at her blog at www.willaful.wordpress.com

14 Comments

  1. Early reviews for Provoked | Joanna Chambers, author
    Jul 10, 2013 @ 09:51:43

    […] got two lovely reviews from Dear Author and Jessewave today – three actually since the Dear Author one is from Willaful and Sirius. […]

  2. cleo
    Jul 10, 2013 @ 09:59:54

    I like the double critique – two for the price of one. I haven’t tried this author yet, although I kind of think one of her earlier books caught my eye. I like that she’s writes both m/f and m/m – that may tip me over try her. This sounds like something I’d go for, but I’ll probably wait until the next in the series comes out.

  3. Julie M
    Jul 10, 2013 @ 10:42:57

    It sounds very good, but I too think I’ll wait for the next one to come out before I pick it up. I like to be able to just go onto the next book, particularly if it is a good as it sounds. I liked A Lady’s Secret but never read her next book. I should check that out too!

  4. hapax
    Jul 10, 2013 @ 13:19:11

    Interesting. I had the exact same reaction as those mentioned above: “oh, I’d like to read this, but I’ll wait until the next book comes out, or maybe until the trilogy’s finished.”

    I don’t apologize for that; I’ve been left hanging by too many unfinished storylines, or ones that go in drastically different (and unreadable for me) directions.

    But it does make me wonder about this increased tendency towards trilogies (or more!) as a marketing decision. How many authors (or publishers) are disappointed by sales of the first book, and choose not to continue? Might this become a self-reinforcing cycle?

  5. Willaful
    Jul 10, 2013 @ 13:25:11

    @hapax: In this case, I thought the format made sense for the type of story the author was trying to write. (From what I can tell from book 1.) But I agree that it can be annoying and I dislike it as a trend.

    Of course, books used to be published in several parts as a regular thing. Wasn’t Pride and Prejudice in two or three volumes? Everything old is new again.

  6. Isobel Carr
    Jul 10, 2013 @ 15:11:15

    @Willaful: I don’t think you can’t compare this to P&P. P&P wasn’t three books. It was one book in three volumes and they came out as a set (you couldn’t buy just one volume). The breaking of a single book into multiple volumes was simply a normal part of publishing back then.

    And yes, I am NOT a fan of this new serial/dualogy trend. When I buy a romance, I want the whole thing all at once. I’m especially put off by books that don’t make it CLEAR to the casual purchaser that the story is not complete.

  7. Isobel Carr
    Jul 10, 2013 @ 15:14:05

    BTW, none of the links I tried (Amazon, BN, Kobo) work. They all say the book doesn’t exist.

  8. HelenMac
    Jul 10, 2013 @ 17:46:56

    @Isobel Carr: This may be because the book hasn’t be released yet? It comes out on July 23rd, according to Samhain’s page for it.

    I also get really annoyed when it is not clear that the book is the first in a series, but fair’s fair – it is clear from the book’s page on the Samhain website that it is the first in a series. So, while I wouldn’t expect a HEA ending, I would hope for at least some closure of at least some of the story lines in the book (why yes, I have been burned quite a few books recently…how did you guess?).

    And…this is going to sound cheesy, but I trust Samhain to see it through, and publish the rest of the series, as long as the author writes them. So, the book was on my radar anyway, but these reviews have persuaded me. I’ll be buying.

  9. Sirius
    Jul 10, 2013 @ 18:30:22

    Oh I did not realize our reviews will be out today :-). Okay yes, usually I get really really annoyed at series of the books with cliffhanger endings, heck when I have to wait for happy ending. Moreover when I requested this book I definitely saw that this was a book one, but I for some reason thought it is going to be two books, only learned that it is going to be a trilogy later on. Having said that, this book worked for me very well as book one. Not that I do not hate waiting anyway, but this romance feels epic in a sense even though it does not have epical scope as one normally thinks of such. The characters grow slowly and I expect them to grow more at the end of the story, but it felt like slow pace suited them especially because it set against historical events which seemed big to me. I do not know, all I can say that while I really sympathize with not wanting to wait, here it worked for me. And yes book is not available yet, sorry.

  10. Willaful
    Jul 10, 2013 @ 18:34:06

    It does come up for pre-order on Amazon, but the way the code here uses the title isn’t working well with how the sites do searches. (Because of the multiple part title, book 1, etc.)

    ETA: I also found it for pre-order at B&N and Kobo.

  11. Sunita
    Jul 10, 2013 @ 20:49:40

    Great reviews! Full disclosure: I read an earlier version of this book, so obviously I’m biased because I thought it was terrific in an earlier, rougher draft.

    As a rule I’m very wary of historical m/m because so many have to enter fantasy-land for the story to work. Not only does Provoked manage to avoid doing that to a great extent, the setting is richly realized and completely believable, and real-life events are woven into the fictional narrative beautifully. I agree with Willaful that the story is very much about David’s journey, but the romance is also front and center.

    There is no standard romance HEA, but the book resolves some of the storylines. The larger romance resolution has to wait, though.

  12. tripoli
    Jul 11, 2013 @ 00:01:42

    @Isobel Carr:

    I just pre-ordered it. The link worked for me.

  13. Maili
    Jul 11, 2013 @ 07:47:26

    Advocate, Edinburgh, 1822, Joanna Chambers, willaful, Sirius and Sunita? Sold. I never stood a chance, really.

    Please don’t answer if it’s a massive spoiler: does the story take place during the summer of 1822?

  14. Sunita
    Jul 11, 2013 @ 08:25:43

    @Maili: It’s actually set in 1820, and the spring/summer events set up the rest of the book.

    I’m pretty sure you’ll like it. ;)

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