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REVIEW: Untouched by Anna Campbell

Dear Ms. Campbell:

006123492301mzzzzzzz.jpgI realized reading your new release Untouched that for me your books are fundamentally a revisiting of older Romance motifs, with both retro and current elements. At your best, your work brings out the best of both past and present Romances, because you are often examining some of the more provocative elements in the genre, making them both larger than life and relatable at the same time. And because of that, perhaps, when something in your book misses, it really misses. Claiming the Courtesan is a book that hit much more often than it missed for me, while Untouched is a book with more misses than hits.

Impoverished in widowhood and banished from her wealthy and titled family, Grace Paget is kidnapped on her way to meet her uncle, mistaken for a common prostitute and nabbed for the pleasure of Matthew Lansdowne, the reclusive Marquess of Sheene. Having lost his parents as a child, and not seen in society since he was fourteen, Matthew is a prisoner of his greedy and conniving uncle, Lord John, who uses a fever Matthew contracted at fourteen to have him certified as a lunatic. Thus the elder Lansdowne needs Matthew alive to keep his guardianship of the future earl’s fortune (if Matthew dies the title will not go to Lord John), so the world thinks the young marquess a madman, even though he has long since regained his wits. Restless and unhappy after eleven years of imprisonment and two failed escape attempts, Matthew has never had the pleasure of a woman, so his uncle decides to bring him an expendable woman to distract him from his captivity.

For a man like Matthew, autonomy means everything and is everywhere absent, except in his botanical work, which consists of grafting roses, conducting various experiments, and writing scientific articles under a pseudonym. Also there is the small issue of his sanity, which Matthew fears will one day leave him, even though he has been free of the feverish fits that we readers understand were the product of physical, not mental illness. Matthew is tormented by the very conditions of his physical containment, but he is equally hard on himself, clinging to what small freedoms he has been able to carve out within the capacities of his own intellectual and emotional resilience.

When Matthew first sees Grace, she is drugged and strapped to the same table on which Matthew spent much time restrained and tormented by quack doctors and his two “handlers” – sadistic pawns of his uncle who can barely stop themselves from raping Grace before they hand her over to Matthew, who initially assumes that Grace is in league with his uncle. Although Matthew is immediately attracted to the beautiful and young Grace, he is disgusted by her presence, as well, because to give in to his physical passions is, in Matthew’s mind, to succumb to his uncle’s will and dominion over him.

Unfortunately for Matthew, however, Grace is even more imperiled once she is brought onto the fortified estate, because her presence is viewed as temporary, as is her life. Monks and Filey, the two wardens, have no qualms about doing her any sort of violence, nor does Lord John, who threatens Grace in a way that makes it essential that she seduce the unwilling marquess. So while Matthew’s need not to become what his uncle wants him to be depends on not bedding Grace. But her life depends on essentially becoming what Lord John intends her to be. Which means that in any scenario each can imagine, one or both of them lose their dignity and potentially their lives. Freedom for one means certain death to the other, and every choice seems to carry intolerable conditions.

I loved the set-up for this book. I’m a sucker for the hero who fights against impossible odds to preserve his honor and then becomes even more honorable when he feels he’s acting dishonorably. And I liked Grace, as well, because she’s a woman who isn’t perfect, and whose passions and pride often get the best of her. When she defied her father to marry a much older political revolutionary I could completely see the intellectual passion that drove her to such rashness. Her youth and idealistic commitment to social freedom led to a false belief that she occupied a moral high ground in her conviction that she could help change the world. And despite numerous disappointments and the degradations of poverty, she still has a good deal of that pride and passion, and she can still be impetuous and sharp in her temper. Like Matthew, she is someone who craves freedom and independence and who has been betrayed by life circumstances.

What I didn’t like so much about Untouched was the time-frame in which Grace’s trauma and Matthew’s resolve wears away – two days, I think – and the rapid pace of the transformation in their relationship from distrust to passionate mutual protection. While the artificial construction of the captivity scenario on Matthew and Grace creates an immediate sense of intimacy that allows for a compressed time frame in the development of their relationship, I felt that it was just too fast to be believable, especially for such strong and stubborn characters. Further, there was a melodramatic quality to their budding passion and desire to protect one another that grated against the complexity of their situation. For example, as Matthew contemplates Grace’s unhappy marriage with a selfish older man, [f]urious grief for her sorrow gripped him in claws of steel (p. 125). And for all of Grace’s independence, she’s still sexually unfulfilled and relatively inexperienced: She’d done her duty by Josiah but the act was always quick, furtive, performed in darkness while they remained clothed (p. 115). Between some of the indigo-tinged prose and almost instantaneous flare of passion, there is the constant threat of sexual violence from any one of the sadistic men surrounding Grace and Matthew, a persistent element that felt manipulative rather than authentic in its creation of tension.

It took me nearly two weeks to get through the first half of the novel, but once I passed that point, the second part flew, and I found myself engrossed in the story. I appreciated that the sexual compatibility between two relatively inexperienced characters was not immediate, and I especially thought that Grace’s initial reaction to sex with Matthew was realistic and true to her character. I also found that the second half of the book, where Matthew and Grace attempt to take control of what seems to be an uncontrollable situation, was much more believable to me, even though the circumstances were still quite extreme. In this section I found that almost every concern I had about plotting complications was answered in a way that seemed logical and smart. I liked that you didn’t drag out the melodrama in the second half, because the way that part of the story built was dramatic enough without the extra tension.

Had there been fifty extra pages in which to develop the early relationship between Grace and Matthew more subtly and fully, I think I would have loved this book. Although less controversial than Claiming the Courtesan, I think Untouched is much more emotionally tense, at least in the concept and plotting. So I really missed not having all those steps taken carefully in the early days of Matthew and Grace’s acquaintance, because the sacrifice Grace makes near the end of the book would have been even more poignant had I felt more authentically the depth of their emotional interdependence. Of course I knew how things would end, but because I missed out on knowing Grace and Matthew better at the beginning of the book, I felt I had to fill in too many blanks at the end regarding a significant amount of time that passes near the end of the novel.

One of the main themes of the novel is freedom, particularly the costs that attend various illusions of freedom for which people struggle. Among other things the story contemplates how one can be physically free but emotionally imprisoned, or physically imprisoned but emotionally and intellectually free. As Grace and Matthew know, freedom does not just exist on one level, and to be whole, one must not simply have the physical freedom to choose, but also the intellectual and emotional capacity to make an authentic choice. There are so many ways in which the novel hints at these various elements, although it doesn’t dig as deeply into them as I wish it had. However, as with Claiming the Courtesan, there is enough ingenuity and provocative contemplation in Untouched to make me anxious to read your next book. I only hope that you give your story and your characters all the freedom you suggest in this book that people need to be truly human and happy. C+

~Janet

This book can be purchased in mass market or ebook format.

isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!

15 Comments

  1. Brie
    Dec 21, 2007 @ 16:19:28

    I reviewed this book earlier today and we seem to share the same opinions of Untouched. Like you, I felt that the first half dragged and the second half was a better read. I agree about the pace of Matthew and Grace’s relationship too. It happened too fast and I could totally see how, like you suggested, more pages focusing on their growing attraction and feelings toward each other would have better served the emotional aspect of the story.

  2. Susan/DC
    Dec 21, 2007 @ 16:41:17

    Not a direct comment since I haven’t yet read Untouched, but Diana Norman’s Taking Liberties deals, although less melodramatically, with the same issues of freedom. The book takes place in England during the American Revolution, and Norman puts you right in the middle of the time with characters who have no way of knowing whether this truly will be the war that starts a new nation or a rebellion that will end with its leaders hanged as traitors. It’s also about personal liberty, as one of the main characters is a new widow whose abusive husband has just died. She has to learn to break the chains created by her husband but also by herself as a form of self-protection. I loved the interplay of the world writ large and that writ small, and Norman’s characters are never less than vivid.

  3. Barbara B.
    Dec 21, 2007 @ 17:21:50

    Thanks for the review, Janet. It sounds like a very interesting failure and that’s enough to intrigue me these days. With this blend of old and new, Campbell is at least trying something a little different. As a bored, decades long romance reader I’ll support even the slightest attempt at something a little different.

  4. Kristie(J)
    Dec 21, 2007 @ 18:28:14

    I liked this one much better than you did *g*. I didn’t even think about how fast their relationship changed. What I did really appreciate in this one and something you very rarely see in a romance is the first love scene and how it was so less than great for her.

  5. Janet
    Dec 23, 2007 @ 01:23:58

    Brie: How funny that you and I picked up on the exact same timing issues. As to the purple prose, when I was reading Untouched, I started wondering what makes prose purple to one person and not to another. I had seen a couple of reviews praising the writing, and while some of it is still very good, more felt over the top to me in this book. Oh, well; I still await the next one to see what she’s going to do next!

    Susan: I have Norman’s The Vizard Mask, but I haven’t read it yet. I need to, though, because everyone raves about her. Thanks for another rec.

    Barbara: I hadn’t really thought of Untouched as a failure, but you are right that it wasn’t a success for me, at least not in the way I wanted it to be. I definitely think Campbell’s books are worth reading because she really is a new voice in the genre, even if this time around the voice felt somewhat muted to me.

    Kristie: I think most readers liked this one more than I did, and I’m happy about that, because I think without all the controversy that Claiming the Courtesan had people can really talk about the book and not *just* the forced seduction issue. One of the reasons I think I was harder on this one is that I know captivity narratives so well, and so I tend to bring that with me as a reader. Definitely agree with you, though, about the first love scene. Those are the places I really enjoy seeing Campbell break out of the box!

  6. Lynne Connolly
    Jun 11, 2009 @ 11:15:39

    I just finished this book. I thought it was interesting, but there were some serious historical errors that stopped me getting into it. Two actually
    The whole premise is that Matthew’s uncle is keeping him alive, but in captivity, so he can keep the power. If Matthew dies, his uncle ceases to be Matthew’s legal guardian and Matthew’s cousins inherit.

    1. In English law at that time you couldn’t be appointed a legal guardian if you stood to gain by the person’s death. So the uncle would have been disbarred from doing it in law.

    2. If a branch of the family tree fails, it’s traced back to the trunk, not to another branch. In other words, if Matthew died without issue, the next heir would be the oldest surviving son of the last title holder. His uncle would have inherited. No reason to keep the poor boy alive.

    I kept thinking about that, and it did spoil it a bit for me. And there wasn’t enough period detail for me. It could have been any time in history, apart from a brief mention of the Duke of Wellington. Waisted gowns (in 1820?) and drawers (not yet) were a bit of a jarring note as well.

    But I did enjoy her voice and I read to the end of the book. Have to agree – a tad melodramatic.

    And am I alone in wanting more history in my historical romance?

  7. GrowlyCub
    Jun 11, 2009 @ 11:42:52

    2. If a branch of the family tree fails, it's traced back to the trunk, not to another branch. In other words, if Matthew died without issue, the next heir would be the oldest surviving son of the last title holder. His uncle would have inherited. No reason to keep the poor boy alive.

    I had no idea. I always thought it went oldest son, next-oldest, etc., so if there were 3 sons A, B, and C and A died, A’s son D would be next, but if D died, then B would inherit or his offspring, if he had a son.

    So, if A and D and then B died, C would inherit even though B had offspring?

  8. Lynne Connolly
    Jun 11, 2009 @ 12:23:26

    Let’s say Anthony the first duke is the grandfather and he has three sons, Bennett, Bradley and Boris. Bennett is the eldest, and he has a son, Colin. Bradley, the next oldest son has no childre. Boris has two, Christopher and Clamshell.

    When Anthony dies, Bennett inherits the title. Then Bennett dies. Colin, his son, inherits but he is declared unsound, so a guardian must be found.

    (here’s the first error – neither Boris nor Bradley would be appointed his legal guardian because they have something to gain from Colin’s death. The guardian would be someone from his mother’s family or a family friend, or even a legal person, and it would likely be several, not one. There would be trustees for the estate, to oversee it during the child’s minority or incapaciation. Laura Kinsale handled this aspect well in “Flowers From the Storm” where his mother brought him up, but didn’t have total jurisdiction over his estate. It would never be allowed to rest in the hands of one person).

    Okay, so Bradley, his oldest surviving uncle, takes the guardianship.

    Colin dies. Since he doesn’t have any sons or brothers, they have to go back to the last holder of the title with surviving sons. That’s Anthony. The next person in line for the title is Anthony’s oldest surviving son. Bradley becomes the next title holder.

    If Boris is the next in age, then he and his sons claim the title, but in “Untouched” the other son is said to be younger than the villain at one point, and it would be him, not his sons, who inherited.

    If Bradley dies, then Boris and his sons get it. But only then.

    It’s a lot easier if you look at it diagramatically. Then it explains itself.

  9. GrowlyCub
    Jun 11, 2009 @ 12:42:21

    Oh… I didn’t remember that ‘Bradley’ was older than ‘Boris’ in the book. I assumed Boris was second oldest and had sons (the cousins who were slated to inherit) and Bradley was the youngest brother and he became guardian because Boris was already dead and Boris’s sons were next in line and Bradley wouldn’t directly benefit from Colin’s death.

    In that scenario as I described above, what happens if Boris dies before Colin inherits? Bennett inherits and then Colin after him, but Boris (second oldest son) never inherits himself, but he has two sons. I thought in that scenario Christopher and then Clamshell would inherit next before Bradley.

  10. Lynne Connolly
    Jun 11, 2009 @ 13:24:16

    No, you got it right (I think). It’s the next oldest surviving legitimate male in direct descendant from the last title holder. If that person has surviving legitimate sons, then it goes down that line. They just keep going back until they find one.

    From the book:

    “While I'm alive and confined, my uncle plays the man of importance.”

    The word alive struck her. “And if you die?”

    “The title goes to my cousin Hector. If he meets his maker, a string of younger brothers line up for the marquessate. My father produced one sickly descendant and Lord John has thrown only girls, four of them. Uncle Charles hatched a brood of six husky boys before he broke his neck in a hunting accident.”

    “And Lord John returns to being merely a younger son.” Her fingers clenched in his sleeve. How could he bear what his uncle did to him? Her belly cramped on a surge of futile rage. “He wants you healthy but under his control? Like an animal in a menagerie? It's obscene.”

    That is actually wrong in one instance. The title will go to the oldest living male descendant. If Charles is older than John, then yes, the cousins will get it, but if John is the elder, (it says he’s a “younger son” but then they all are compared to Matthew’s father) he gets it.

    So why aren’t the cousins allowed to see Lord Sheene and why don’t they make a fuss? After all, Matthew could be dead and the doctors don’t count, as they are paid employees. The test of competency had to be by a panel of peers. (again, Kinsale does that in “Flowers.”) If John was the youngest (but I’m sure I read along the way that he was the next oldest – I’ve scoured the book and I can’t find it) and Hector’s children were the heirs, they or their guardians had the right to audit and insist on independent checks.

    My main problem was the guardianship. It wasn’t a legal one, and in the event of a father dying before his son’s majority, a group of people were appointed, not just one, and none of them had to have a vested interest in the estate. These people weren’t daft and where a large estate and title was concerned, failsafes were put in place.

    Lord John wouldn’t have had control of the total estate. Checks would be in place to ensure he didn’t misuse it, and to ensure that his nephew had regular checkups.

    I’ve asked a real expert to check my reasoning, in case I’ve got it wrong.

    Maybe it’s the whole twirling-moustache thing that got to me, if you see what I mean.

    Oh yes, and the abuse Matthew got especially towards the end. Internal injuries much? At that point I thought “I thought he wanted to keep Matthew alive?”

    The thing was, I kept wanting to like it, and I kept stumbling on it. She has a great voice but maybe a bit more grounding and a bit less melodrama might be the answer.

  11. Regencyresearcher
    Jun 11, 2009 @ 13:29:55

    Adam has 3 sons Broderick, Carlos, and Dick
    Broderick has a son Frederick and dies while Freddy is a child. Usually Frederick’s mother would be his guardian for nurture and HER brother his guardian for all else.
    Carlos and Dick marry and each have a son.
    If Freddy dies without a son, then Carlos gets the peerage and land. if Carlos is dead then his son Greg inherits.
    If Greg dies before having a son Dick gets it all.
    Dick or Dick’s sons only inherit if there are no remaining males in the lines of Broderck and Carlos.

  12. GrowlyCub
    Jun 11, 2009 @ 13:39:55

    Lynne, I read that passage to mean that John is the youngest, hence Matthew’s cousins inherit before him.

    But I totally understand why the whole set up kept throwing you out of the story. Once the mind latches onto something, it’s hard to refocus. ;)

    I liked Untouched, but I don’t remember how well or what I didn’t, if anything. I do seem to recall that I thought the elapsed time too short for a convincing HEA.

  13. Lynne Connolly
    Jun 11, 2009 @ 13:59:40

    If I love a book, then I’ll push errors aside. For instance, there was a bad inheritance error in Susan Carroll’s “The Painted Veil” but I loved that book to bits and ignored it.

    In case you’re wondering, the hero, who holds a courtesy title, is the heir to his grandfather’s title through his mother. In that case he wouldn’t have been entitled to use the courtesy title, and there was no explanation as to how the title was allowed to pass through the female line.

    It annoyed me because it made no difference to the story. So in my mind, I reversed his parents and made his father the heir, and then it was all right. Because I loved the story, and it swept me away. Maybe Campbell didn’t quite achieve that, for me anyway.

    And speaking of that, can I pimp a totally different book, Kate Hardy’s “Surrender to the Sheikh”? Ignore the title. I loved this book, absolutely loved it. It’s part of the July offerings from Harlequin Presents and it was a Mills and Boon May Modern book.

    I had the reply from the expert, and I was right about the guardianship, and actually there was something else, too. I’m waiting for her permission to quote.

  14. Lynne Connolly
    Jun 11, 2009 @ 15:08:47

    Here’s what Nancy Mayer has to say. I have her permission to quote her:

    Guardianship ended at 21. A will could say that money could be witheld until 25 or withheld if a person married withut permisison before age 25, but guardianship ended at 21. There was no way for a parent to set up a guardianship past age 21 for a disabled child. Even when a person was seen as not being all there mentally, the most that usually could be done was to put a trustee over the money.

    If anyone thought he needed to be kept in protective custody, they would have to go to Chancery court and have the person declared a lunatic or an imbecile and get permission for someone to handle the estate.

    A committee would be appointed to investigate the mental capacity of the man and only after a report was made by this committee would the court decide whether a guardian was needed at all.

    As the courts also believed that ‘lunaticks’ could have lucid intervals during which they could be free to do whatever they want, the chances of an uncle being allowed to keep a marquess incarcerated are slim.

    Also, marquesses usually have a great deal of property which should be under the control of trustees. These trustees become liable for losses if they give any power to a self described guardian at any time, but particularly after the marquess is twenty one.

    Much easier to hold a female and have her declared incompetent.

    This also supposes that there were no other relatives.
    There are circumstances where this plot might work, but not if the man is corresponding with others and there is other family.
    If Lord John is the oldest surviving brother he is the heir, unless an older brother, besides the marquess’s father, died and left a son.

    So the guardianship is the main stumbling block, if we assume that Lord John is the youngest brother.

  15. Elektrische Zahnbuerste
    Nov 21, 2011 @ 10:25:10

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