This is my very first review. Perhaps one of many. Who knows? It's probably not the world's best review, but one has to start somewhere, so here goes!!
I really enjoyed this book. I read it in only a few hours, the pace of the story and the witty repartee between the characters kept me smiling and engaged the whole time.
Lucien de Gray, Duke of Marchmont and Zoe Octavia Lexham knew each other as children. After the death of Lucien's parents, Zoe's father stood in loco parentis to the young boy and his elder brother and the families spent much time together. Lucien and Zoe have a connection even as children. After the death of his brother in a riding accident, Lucien inherits the title. Shortly after, Zoe and her parents travel to Egypt and other exotic locales. Zoe is kidnapped and spends the next 12 years in a harem.
Lucien's reaction to the loss of Zoe, after losing his only brother and his parents, is to shut himself off from emotion, locking his more tender side firmly away. He becomes the epitome of the bored fashionable young lord, taking nothing very seriously and not looking too deeply at anything or anyone.
The book begins when Zoe escapes from the harem and finds her way back to England and her family. She of course, has been more obviously locked away and it is these themes the book explores.
There is the convenient retaining of Zoe's virginity (her "husband" was impotent) but I thought in the end that this was because the book was not about violation, at least, not really. If Zoe had returned to England a non-virgin there were of course numerous issues surrounding a "good marriage" and reintroduction to "polite society". Her keeping her virginity neatly skirted those issues. Others have commented that the plot point was improbable and while this may well be true, I thought, on consideration that the book would have been a very different one without it. I would still have liked to have read it, dark as it would no doubt have been. But, I don't regret the book I did read.
I would have liked to have spent more time with both characters seeing how they felt about what had happened to Zoe in the harem - eg whether Zoe felt violated, virgin or not. I assume that her sexual instruction involved at least someone touching her and in the circumstances, this would amount to a sexual assault but there wasn't anything in the book that hinted at such feelings from Zoe. Similarly, Lucien greatly enjoyed Zoe's sexual abandon and knowledge but did not seem to struggle at all (or much) about how she'd come to learn these "arts". Perhaps because she was only 12 when kidnapped the sexual stuff became "normal" and she didn't suffer for it? I'm not any kind of expert in that area but that's the only theory I could come up with for why she seemed so normal and accepting of her sexual self. She was in no way ashamed and it may be that's what led Lucien not to trouble himself about it.
In any event, the themes of the book were, for me, about imprisonment and freedom. Zoe had been literally imprisoned in the harem and Lucien was emotionally imprisoned by his various tragic losses. (The second half of the book explores other types of imprisonment/freedom but I won't give that part of the story away here.)
When Zoe returns to Lucien's life, she has to learn how to be free and Lucien discovers, much to his dismay, that the "mental cupboard" he has been shoving emotions and memories into will no longer stay closed. Lucien has a very dry wit which I loved and Zoe, used to life in the harem, often says things which are considered scandalous in polite society. Both caused some laugh out loud moments for me - some of the best bits of a Loretta Chase novel in my view.
I love the way Ms. Chase writes and I love Lucien's contrary wit - here's an example:-
Adderwood waved a newspaper under his nose. "Have you seen this?"The chemistry between the h/h was instant and believable. I genuinely liked Lucien and Zoe and would have liked to have spent more time with them.
Marchmont glanced at it. "It appears to be a newspaper.".
"It's the Delphian. Have you read it?"
"Certainly not. I never read the papers before bedtime, as you well know."
"I should have bet anything you'd read this one."
"I hope you bet nothing. It pains me to see you lose money, unless it is to me."
"But it's all about the Harem Girl."
"Is it indeed?"
"What an aggravating fellow you are to be sure," said Adderwood.... "This" he tapped the newspaper, "appears to be the young woman."
"Certainly not." said Marchmont. "That is a newspaper. We settled that a moment ago. Do you not recollect?"
I thought the book ended a bit soon - it was a fairly short read - coming in a just over 220 pages on my Sony reader but I live in hope that the characters will appear as secondary characters in other books - I'd like to read about Lord Winterton - he was the plot device used to return Zoe to England but apart from that we are told he is "darkly handsome" and that Zoe, despite his good looks, felt no spark with him, he is a cipher. Perhaps we'll get his story next?
Overall, I rated this book an A.
Thank you Ms. Chase for a wonderful read.