Monday, 8 June 2015

Review: Breathless for You by Elizabeth Anthony

4 stars

Breathless for You is set in 1921, amidst a Britain still reeling from the Great War, caught between the old and the new.  It's an anxious time, and this book captures that perfectly.

The heroine, Madeline, is the ward of the Duke of Belfield, but her past life in France has left her at odds with her aristocratic surroundings. Desperate to avoid being the source of gossip and insinuation that could affect her guardian's standing in society, she removes herself to the Duke's country estate, where she is irresistibly drawn to the mysterious gamekeeper, Nathan Mallory. The two begin an affair, but their growing relationship is threatened by the secrets they are both keeping, and by the manipulative Lady Beatrice, the widow of the former heir to the dukedom. With Belfield away peacekeeping in Ireland, it is up to Madeline to thwart Beatrice's attempts to ruin both her reputation and that of Sophie, the Duke's common-born love. 

Breathless For You was a compulsive read. The reasons behind the characters' actions were revealed in stages, encouraging a 'oh, just one more chapter, until I find out XYZ' mentality. These gradual revelations made Madeline a complex and interesting heroine, confident in some ways and diffident in others. The conventions of the genre usually provide the reader with a 'tortured hero', but Madeline was a 'tortured heroine' poignantly fighting against the demons of her past. Nathan starts off as a fairly stock-standard hero, but as he gains a greater understanding of Madeline's situation and he begins to share his own secrets, he too becomes an interesting and engaging character.

But while I enjoyed the hero and heroine, I can't say the same for the other characters. Don't get me wrong, Beatrice made an excellent villain and the book would not have worked without her constant devilry, but I found the cruelty and sordidness that defined her and most other female characters to be off-putting at times, never mind the fact that she never received her comeuppance. From a stylistic perspective, I understand; it is a dark erotic romance, and even if it were not, the post-war setting requires a level of moral nihilism. Nonetheless, as someone who reads romance because I like the happily-ever-after, I found it marred my enjoyment of the book. It's a personal quirk, I know, but it's one that I feel many romance readers share.

Overall though, Breathless for You was an interesting and well-constructed novel, made particularly memorable by the seldom-used setting of post-WWI England.  

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