In this period romance, a young woman with a soiled reputation enters into a marriage of convenience.
In 19th-century London, Lady Jacqueline lives with the stigma of her mother’s death during childbirth. Her possessive father, Lord John Edwards, bitterly resents her, often insulting Jacqueline while drunk and then lavishing her with gifts. She fears she’ll never be free despite the attentions of childhood friend Henry Gates. Douglas “Devil” Radcliffe, proprietor of the infamous house of vice known as Purgatory, needs Lord John’s vote to ensure that the local inhabitants stay where they are, rather than being displaced to Devil’s Acre, an area he more or less rules. The plan is to kidnap Jacqueline, ensuring her safe return once the lord complies. Devil imprudently relies on a vicious man named Carver, who seizes an opportunity for brutality during the snatch. After Lord John’s vote is favorably cast, Jacqueline returns home, a virtual prisoner, marked as a ruined woman and shunned by society. Even loyal Henry abandons her. But then Devil proposes a solution to Jacqueline that might benefit them both. The novel hinges on that tired chestnut of female rescue, carrying it off with more aplomb than many. Ladies’ garments are torn more than once, but this is hardly a bodice-ripper. Happily, each of the characters has his or her own flair, including Henry, the unfortunate soul besotted with childhood friend Jacqueline. Characters exhibit clear growth, especially Lord Edwards, whose harsh persona may mask intolerable grief. Brutality is not to be taken lightly, of course, yet the recipient here of such ignominies seems eager to get on with life. At critical junctures, the plot doesn’t tally; for instance, would a man said to be as astute as Devil undertake such a risky mission? This handsome, long-haired man seems a tad dim, conveniently forgetting his business acumen if the story requires it.
A bit fluffy but entertaining at times.