REVIEW: The Sins of Lord Lockwood by Meredith Duran
Dear Meredith Duran:
When I realized that The Sins of Lord Lockwood, book six in the Rules for the Reckless series, was coming out soon, I was excited. Not only were the glimpses of the hero in previous books intriguing, but the blurb indicated that this was a “hero returned from the dead after (apparently) deserting the heroine on their wedding night” story. (Only in romance could *that* be considered a subgenre.) It’s a trope that I’ve enjoyed before, as it tends to play with the characters’ assumptions about who exactly is the injured party in an estrangement (in this version, the heroine thinks she’s been wronged but hasn’t; the gender-switch corollary I’ve liked in the past is “couple is estranged because the hero thinks the heroine cheated but she didn’t” which I enjoy even more because I’m shamefully drawn to mistreated heroines).
Anyway, our story: Liam Devaliant, Lord Lockwood, is kidnapped on his wedding night and thrown on a transport ship to Australia. Predictably, no one onboard believes that he’s not a lowly convict, but an actual British lord. His new wife, Anna, assumes he’s run off now that he has her money; they quarreled before he stormed off to get kidnapped (I don’t think it’s ever explained how his assailants knew he’d be where he was when they abducted him, but whatever). She retreats to her remote Scottish island and tries to move on.
Four years later, Liam is back in London, looking for revenge. There’s never any doubt (at least not in this book; it’s addressed in previous books, if I recall correctly) about who had him kidnapped, or why: his cousin Stephen had long coveted Liam’s title. Liam is living in his London townhouse, with a Lost Boys-style staff of fellow Australian convicts, toying with Stephen (his plan is to run him into the ground financially, essentially ruining his life, then kill him). Liam’s actually doing just that, toying with Stephen, at a party (full of disreputable types) he’s holding in his lavish London townhouse, right before Anna shows up unexpectedly on Liam’s doorstep.
Liam has been avoiding Anna since his return from the dead. His reasons are complicated, though of course she thinks they’re quite simple: he’s back in England, spending her money outfitting his townhouse luxuriously, and holding debauched entertainments like the one she walks in on the night she comes back into Liam’s life. She decides, for her own reasons, to move in with him; Liam is not pleased.
The Sins of Lord Lockwood is not told in an entirely linear fashion – it eventually skips back to Liam and Anna’s first meeting, and then intersperses scenes from their unconventional courtship and eventual wedding with the present day storyline. I know some readers don’t like this style, but it works for me. Particularly in a story like this, where many of Liam and Anna’s present day encounters are tense, dark and fraught with conflict, it’s a relief to occasionally revert to simpler, happier days.
Anna’s upbringing is unconventional and somewhat lonely. Her mother dies when she is young, and after that her father foists her off on a variety of aunts, before settling her on Rawsey, her beloved island, with her grandmother. She’s a heiress but needs a husband to come into her inheritance – her main concern always being the island and the well-being of its inhabitants. Anna’s a little bit of a “type” – red-headed Scot, feisty and independent, and a bluestocking to boot. She doesn’t expect to marry for love, and her engagement to Liam is a matter of convenience for both of them. But she’s attracted to him and as she gets to know him she views Liam as someone who has enough respect for women (and for Anna specifically) not to interfere with her business dealings.
Young Liam is handsome and happy-go-lucky. He is reputed to be a bit of a rogue (he’s rumored to have been sent down from Oxford for setting a fire in the Bodleian Library), but his reputation is exaggerated. He needs to marry for money in order to counteract his late father’s poor financial decisions. When he meets and is attracted to Anna, he decides to pursue her, first for practical reasons (though he likes her from the beginning and finds her fascinating – he likes that she’s not impressed by him). In the period between their initial meeting and their wedding day, Liam finds himself drawn even more to Anna, and by their wedding day he’s practically ready to declare his feelings. But the moment passes, and when they quarrel after their wedding (about money, brought on by insecurities on both sides) he storms away and doesn’t see Anna again for four years.
In some ways, this could be considered a Big Mis story, but the reality is a lot more complex. Anna is under the misapprehension that Liam checks every box on the Dissolute British Lord Checklist: money-grubbing, feckless, philandering, check, check, check. None of those things are true but Liam is so damaged by his transportation and the abuse he suffered in Australia that he feels incapable of being the man Anna once married. Further, he is angry at *her*, feeling that she should have looked for him, raised a hue and cry over his mysterious disappearance, rather than simply believing he’d left her and going on with her life. The conflict is especially poignant because he’s not wrong, but on the other hand Anna’s position is understandable as well – she didn’t want to be seen as a fool chasing after a husband that she genuinely believed deserted her.
The writing in The Sins of Lord Lockwood is excellent, as one would expect of this author. But what really makes the story is the complexity of the conflict and the characterization; both Anna and Liam are so sympathetic but there is no easy path to resolution for them – time and a rebuilding of trust is needed.
I had a minor quibble with the hero’s behavior near the end, when he makes a choice not to be forthright with the heroine, seemingly just for the plot contrivance of having her run after him. But the denouement was otherwise very smartly done, so I can’t complain too much.
My grade for The Sins of Lord Lockwood is an A-.