Anne Stuart is one of my favorite authors who has been at the game since the 70’s. I love her because she writes such deliciously dark unrepentant anti-heroes unlike any other. Never Kiss a Rake is the first book in a historical romance trilogy about three sisters who go into service in the households of very bad men in order to discover who was responsible for their father’s downfall and death.
After finding a mysterious note left behind by her father, Bryony Russell is convinced that her father didn’t embezzle money from his shipping business and his death might not have been accidental. As the eldest sister, Bryony decides it’s up to her to get to the bottom of the matter. She sends her sisters away, puts on a shabby frock and attempts to infiltrate the Earl of Kilmartyn’s house by applying as housekeeper. Of course, things never go as planned for Bryony. The house is a disaster, the earl’s wife is catty vindictive witch and the information she wants to get on Kilmartyn is nowhere to be found.
Adrian Bruton, Lord Kilmartyn has many chips on his shoulders – he’s at the bottom of the society hierarchy as a second rate Irish lord, his wife has no regard for him whatsoever and, suddenly, the new housekeeper is not what she appears to be. Immediately realizing that Bryony is no housekeeper, he resolves to play the game and figure out the mystery of her appearance in his household.
Bryony is quite naïve having been sheltered for nearly all of her life because of the pox marks on her face, first by her mother and later by choice. It’s been drilled into her consciousness that she would never have a man because of her facial defects. While Bryony is immediately attracted to Kilmartyn, she can’t conceive how he would ever feel the same about her even when he is blatant in his advances. Her internal dialog almost entirely revolved around this issue and it became tedious quickly.
Kilmartyn was softer than I expected for a Stuart hero. There was nothing inherently dangerous or villainous about him. He was slightly wicked to go along with Bryony’s ruse and let her play her game but that was minor. He took care to ensure that Bryony was safe from his wife’s venom and gentle with her insecurities. I guess I was just disappointed that he was nicer than I had anticipated.
The major issue I had with the book was that it consisted of mostly the inward monologue of Kilmartyn and Bryony. Pages and pages of their thoughts, with little interaction with other characters made for very slow plodding reading. I found myself skimming pages. Too much time the main characters heads left the suspense plot short changed and the romance flat.
Even the best authors write clunkers, so while this one didn’t work for me, I will absolutely be reading the next book.
*ARC provided by Montlake via NetGalley