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REVIEW: Libertine’s Kiss by Judith James

“Abandoned by his cavalier father at a young age, William de Veres grew up knowing precious little happiness. But William has put the past firmly behind him and as a military hero and noted rake, he rises fast in the ranks of the hedonistic Restoration court. Though not before he is forced to seek shelter from a charming young Puritan woman-

The civil wars have cost the once-high-spirited Elizabeth Walters her best friend and her father, leaving her unprotected and alone. She flees an unwanted marriage, seeking safe haven, but what she finds is something she never expected. When her kindness and her beauty bring her to the attention of William, and then the king, she will have a choice to make. After all, can a notorious libertine really be capable of love?”

Dear Ms. James,

I’ll admit that I skipped reading “Broken Wing” because I’m just not that into lengthy sagas or horribly abused characters any more. However when I learned that “Libertine’s Kiss” would be set in Restoration England, one of my favorite era in English history, I jumped at the chance to try it out.

Judith James by Libertine's KissLizzy isn’t a Puritan at heart and that isn’t the conflict in this book. It’s not Puritan vs Cavalier. It’s self destruction vs healing. True love vs empty and hollow pursuits. It’s bringing one man out of the desert wasteland he’s retreated into due to the corruption of his youth which lead into the corruption of his adulthood. He fits perfectly into the hedonism of Charles II’s Court but it would have destroyed him even as the other courtiers laughed and enjoyed his descent.

I like that Lizzy isn’t presented as some naive goody two shoes who charms the Court, Will and the King with her innocence. She is more innocent than a lot of women at Court but she quickly catches on to what she needs to do to get what she wants and also never loses sight of the prize she wants – her lands and security. She also realizes that Will does owe her and wisely decides to let him do so vs hauling herself on a high horse and refusing his advice.

Lizzy knows and sees Will as he is. She knows his reputation and that it’s based on truth and – thank you – that he’s not kept himself pure out of youthful love for her. There’s no rosy colored glasses on her. She believes he can be better and knows he has to try and change himself to be saved but she’s under no illusions as to what he is now. They both have tempers so life won’t be totally smooth sailing but both can control and direct their anger. I also loved that, years ago, Will teaches Lizzy how to fight and defend herself though she’s smart enough not to try and use this on her first husband. Those punishments you mentioned husbands using on their wives then are enough to send a cold chill down my spine.

Here’s a world with a much more casual approach to sex. Lizzy is a widow and it seems few in society would begrudge her any pleasure she wanted to look for. It’s also an honest look of how many men view sex. Will tells Lizzy that he won’t take any lovers should they get married and to him that doesn’t mean no sex, just no emotional involvement. I like that it takes him a while to realize that for him, Lizzy is the only one. Had he gone from libertine to overnight commitment, it would have rung hollow and I would have wondered how long it would last. He must slowly awaken from the numbing of his emotions that he did to himself as a defense against what was done to him.

Lizzy demands all of Will that she wants and won’t settle for less. Her reasons to not marry him go beyond just not accepting a lack of “I love yous.” Lizzy is aware that wanting to marry for love is a pipe dream for most and she curses Will at the same time she forgives him for teaching her to dream and daring her to reach for what she wants. She’s had a bad first marriage and doesn’t want a so-so second one. As a widow, she’s in a good position in this age. She has freedoms married women don’t and why should she give that up for less than what she wants? As they are now, she can enjoy him on her own terms and not have the emotional hurt of seeing him with any other woman, regardless of his feelings or lack of same for them. She also wants him to give up the poisonous way he’s living at the Court. The idea of him healing the damage done by his tutor and the life he lead in Europe is there without turning it into a modern, touchy feely healing session.

These two undergo great emotional upheavals in their relationship with each other. Their long term friendship morphed into sexual release and then morphs into emotional commitment. Lizzy was Will’s saving grace in their youth but he still has to decide to give up the way he’s been living at Court. I like that Lizzy makes him make the choice. She won’t try to change him herself but rather makes him choose. “I can’t save you, William. You need to save yourself.” In the end, he does choose her, to let her into his heart and choose to find himself and reclaim himself. B

~Jayne

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Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

6 Comments

  1. Tweets that mention REVIEW: Libertine’s Kiss by Judith James | Dear Author -- Topsy.com
    Oct 06, 2010 @ 14:50:08

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  2. lada
    Oct 07, 2010 @ 10:52:15

    (Please note that some may view the following as including spoilers!!)

    Thanks for a great review Jayne. I wanted to like this book because of the unique and fabulous setting but I couldn’t get past the first chapter when Will has been shot, stabbed deep enough to require stitches, has been walking around in freezing rain for who-knows-how-long, is starving and hasn’t slept for days yet sprouts an immediate erection at the sight of a lady he finds attractive. While I understand from the title he’s meant to be a libertine, I also figured he’d be human. A peak at the next chapter told me that despite having that bullet removed and stitches applied and imbibing quite a bit of opiate laced alcohol, he and Lizzy do in fact have sex. At that point I had to put the book down.

    It made me sad that I just couldn’t suspend my belief quite that far but your review makes me want to give it another try!!

  3. Jayne
    Oct 07, 2010 @ 13:43:27

    @lada: Yep, I agree that first part was hard to get past. And the fact that they were so close as young teenagers yet he has no clue who she is now. My eyebrows were raised skeptically too. But I wanted to know why he didn’t recognize her badly enough that I kept going and the book got much better after that. But I do understand what made you put it down.

  4. orannia
    Oct 07, 2010 @ 22:36:19

    Thank you Jayne. Books set in this era are rare (well, they are to me :) so I’m quite looking forward to this. I did read and enjoy Broken Wing – I like the emotional depth Judith James brings to her characters and am looking forward to reading Libertine’s Kiss :)

  5. Estara
    Oct 08, 2010 @ 14:13:48

    Thanks for reminding me that this was out. I have read Broken Wing and Judith James seems to have a tendre for men with horrible childhood who have to recover from it with the help of the heroine in order to be worthy of a life with her.

    I’m glad that we don’t get the years of separation within the storyline as a part of the book that takes up huge amounts of pages but that the recovery of the hero takes place in the presence of the heroine. We didn’t have that in Broken Wing, although that worked beautifully too. And the secondary characters were marvellous.

  6. What Jayne is reading/watching in mid August
    Mar 25, 2012 @ 09:31:48

    [...] in mind I might try next including The King’s Courtesan by Judith James because I liked the first book in the series and Swept Off Her Feet by Hester Browne because a friend of mine tried and like [...]

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