My threshold for stories that play out the history of characters in bits and pieces of backstory has reached critical mass. If the damn backstory is important to current actions, just tell it to me and stop dribbling it out in teeny pieces like some bizarre trail of crumbs. The other hot button is historical novels that use the ‘mystic abilities’ ploy as the rational for way too much. I’m pretty sure Amanda Quick’s Vanza Society was lurking somewhere practicing their Leap Like a Spider Cry Like a Loon moves. Jeeze.
Madeline Hunter’s The Sins of Lord Easterbrook just pushed me over the edge on both fronts, so forgive me in advance for taking out some of my pent up frustrations here. Just let me say I started this book 3 times and for the life of me, I cannot get seriously involved with any story that opens with some gibberish that’s meant to be the 1800’s version of new age meditation.
Silence. A dark, calm center adsorbing chaos into its stillness.
The peaceful rhythm of inhales and exhales.
A pulse. The fundamental beat of nature extending into infinity. Awareness of everything and nothing. No thoughts. No dreams. No hungers. Pure existence. Primeval knowing.
Floating in the center now. Finally. Singular but also transcendent. Only the pulse in the darkness. Alone. But unified with a larger rhythm, the –
A disturbance. A small, silent shout of caution and worry intruding into the perfect void.
(OK, admit it. You were waiting for, “There was a great disturbance in the Force, Luke.” Alas, Obi-wan is not here to rescue us from this book. A light saber would have been damn handy, but the Death Star is what I really wanted.)
Disturbed from his meditations by his valet, Easterbrook looks out his front window a see just a form, a hand and is immediately convinced he knows the woman entering the carriage. What does he do when he learns her name? He has her kidnapped and brought to his home – to a bedroom no less. Now, if Leona Montgomery was armed, and she had a shred of sense, she would have shot someone. I could not buy into simply going along with your own kidnapping. And we’re to believe she’s from Macao and has run her father’s shipping company for and then with her brother and she’s running around London alone and unarmed when her bodyguard Tong Wei had to be left behind? This is just not adding up.
Needless to say, the man Leona knew as ‘Edmund’ was actually the vaunted Marquess of Easterbook – Christian Rothwell. He has Leona alone and claims unfinished business between them and then he says, “You are an enigma, Leona.” But wait a minute – isn’t this guy psychic or empathic or something? Maybe it’s like the Lynsay Sands’ Atlantean vampires that can’t ‘read’ their mates. And sure enough, pages later it turns out Easterbrook found she was ‘immune’ to his gift – or curse as he refers to it.
Anyhoo – Leona figures she might just as well get something out of this little reunion besides a toe curling kiss. She asks Easterbook for an introduction to his brother Hayden to try and get some business contacts for her brother’s company. He agrees and they part, but Easterbrook has plans for them to meet again, soon. The success of the Montgomery and Tavares, the company her brother Gaspar now runs in Macao, is dependent on her making good connections.
Through all of this Leona is being watched by Griffin Winterside of the East India Company. He’s concerned about her presence in London and any connections she might make.
Easterbrook shows up to take her for a carriage ride in Hyde Park then comes back to the house and begins by saying she’d do better moving to his home. She declines. He says she’ll be receiving invitations and offers to pay for her wardrobe if needed. She declines. Then he blindsides her by asking why her fiancée broke the engagement, refusing to believe it was just the fear of the company failing as a result of her father’s death. Finally Leona tells him Perdo browbeat her old duenna into telling him about the times ‘Edmund’ had been to visit her. Pedro spread the story that she and ‘Edmund’ had been lovers. With her father dead and ‘Edmund’ gone, there was no one to defend her. I found Easterbrook’s reaction to this odd to say the least. No anger on her behalf, no remorse she paid the price for their action, just curiosity about whether she was sorry to have lost Pedro.
Phaedra, the wife of Easterbrook’s youngest brother, asks Leona to write letters about her experiences in Macao and the Far East for a journal she was publishing. Leona takes the opportunity to raise the question of opium trading. She believes the illegal trading in opium, which benefited the East India Company, and her father’s complaints to the company caused the reprisals that nearly ruined the business and caused his death. Mr. Winterside shows up at Easterbrook’s home to try and convince him to put a stop to it. Unsuccessfully.
Leona ends up helping a lady rescue her brother from an opium den which leads to Easterbrook following them there and rescuing them. It is here we learn that Easterbrook was once caught in the opium trap himself and his meditations were taught to him by Tong Wei to easy him through withdrawal. It’s these vague bits and pieces that get dropped throughout the book in that leaves the reader with the job of trying to stitch these bits of history into a crazy quilt of a backstory. It loses cogency by virtue of the piece meal process. I disliked it greatly. This bit was so tiny, it could easily have been lost and I don’t understand why it wasn’t explored more.
The affair they begin is less than discrete, but after two break-ins at her house she’s packed off to the safety of his country estate. Easterbrook joins her and they spend a week at the estate enjoying each other to the fullest, but Tong Wei’s return to London and her need to insure Gaspar gets the business contacts he needs call her back to her duties. They had one of those conversations about why he couldn’t offer marriage and also about his ability to sense feelings in others. It was just plain weird and emotionally flat.
They argue over Leona’s return to London and the twofold reasons she has – contracts and revealing those involved in the opium trade and worse. Easterbrook refuses to return her father’s diary, something Easterbook took from their Macao home years ago. She goes back anyway and finds the diary awaits her in her the carriage. Between the diary and her conversation with a trader in London, she learns something of her father that devastates her.
The members of the secret opium smuggling cabal trading in and outside China, in countries in Europe, has an all too obvious answer. The climax was pretty unexciting.
This is the last of Ms Hunter’s Rothwell family saga. I haven’t read them all, but had The Sins of Lord Easterbrook been the first, it would also have been the last I read. The plot was solid and had all kinds of potential, largely lost. Honestly, the beginning was so off-putting I struggled to get into the book at all. Easterbrook’s preoccupation with his abilities got on my nerves after awhile. He is so self adsorbed by his obsession with them, it’s like they consume every aspect of his life, from social interactions to family relationships. Also, I don’t buy he had never managed to control his abilities before but miraculously in the epilogue he has suddenly learned how and is now a happy, content man.
Leona was livelier, but she lacked the spark that really makes a character come alive and I would have much preferred more of her life in Macao been fleshed out. She has overcome a great deal and done well in difficult situations. Her determination does reveal the truth, but at some cost. Still, both Easterbrook and Leona remain characters with about half the personality they need to pull this story off. The whole paranormal abilities issue was more distracting and annoying that an enhancement to the story. Overall a lackluster effort.
My Grade: C- (2.8*) Note: This was rated higher by Dear Author and you can read their review here.
Who would enjoy this book: If you’ve been reading Ms Hunter’s books on the Rothwell family, by all means complete the set. If you haven’t, there are better books out there. The rating for this book would be PG-17.