This book is just so full of heart, of the valiant heroine who puts the welfare of her village before herself, of a contained person that is so darn by the dark hero who is tormented because she has one foot in the world of the Lord of the Manor, but his other with his Gypsy mother. He is cold, demanded and haughty, the Gypsy Lord (the first of the Fallen Angel series for Putney). Nicholas has been away, unable to feel at home in either of his worlds, determined to sell the Manor for it hold harsh memories. However, Claire the local teacher takes it upon herself to beard the lion and demand changes be made to make the people suffer less, especially in the mines. Nicholas strikes a bargain with her - she stays and pretends to be his mistress and he will stay and make improvements. In his own way, he knows her living under his roof marks her, and her reputation would suffer the same as if she was in his bed, so he is making her a loner whether he understands it or not - more like himself.
Only Claire is no one to push around. She agrees to the pose, but refuses to be pushed into being his mistress, and has demanded of her own. They agree on a kiss a day, so thus begins the dance with the devil.
The characters are so real, so life. There is excellent plot, take actually takes you into the dark coal mines...just everything to keep you from putting this one down.
The rest of the Fallen Angels were wonderful, but this just could not touch the perfection of this book!
So far, this is the fourth Putney book I've read and she's yet to get less than five stars. This one, however, would get ten if they were available. The book is full of tension, anguish, emotional moments to bring a lump to the reader's throat, moments when there is no option but to gasp in admiration at Putney's skill. I actually felt a sense of loss when I reached the final page: I wanted this book never to end. And I couldn't resist going back and re-reading some of my favourite passages there and then.
Nicholas is a deeply cynical, embittered man in his thirties, who has no intention of taking an interest in anything beyond casual affairs and other such pleasures. But Clare has other ideas for him: she demands that he do something to prevent the inhabitants of the local village from either starving or getting killed because of the appalling working conditions in the local coalmine. Nicholas just wants her to leave him alone, so he suggests a bargain he's sure she'll refuse: her reputation in return for his assistance. But she accepts him, along with his condition that he is allowed one kiss per day and that he will make every attempt to seduce her.
He keeps his word, in every respect, and soon Clare learns that while the Gypsy Earl takes his responsibilities very seriously, he also takes seduction extremely seriously. She's soon wondering just how long she can resist his advances and her own attraction to him....
In this book we also meet the other three Fallen Angels: Rafe (who has already appeared in the - chronologically - earlier The Bargain), Lucian and Michael. Michael in particular plays a significant cameo role in this story, which has left me eager to read his own story. Putney has created some delightfully complex and intriguing heroes here, and I'm looking forward to exploring them in greater detail.
Putney, in addition, has clearly put a lot of time and effort into research: she is head and shoulders above most US Regency writers in this respect. If it wasn't for the use of US spelling conventions, I would never know I was reading an American writer. The detail in respect of Methodism, the coalmining industry, the Napoleonic wars, societal conventions in the early nineteenth centuty and so on is both accurate and interesting.
Nicholas and Clare are both unusual. He is the half-Gypsy earl who has had a bitter first marriage, and whose relationship with his late grandfather is complicated, to say the least. [Find out more as the book progresses]. Clare offers herself to him to save the valley and its inhabitants. The earl strikes an interesting bargain - he wants not her body (although he is interested in her) but her reputation. For a Methodist teacher, this is a hard blow indeed.
There are two major subplots. One involves the villainous manager of the mines run by Lord Michael Kenyon, an absentee owner who leased the land for the mining operations from his friend Nicholas. The other plot is about Lord Michael himself, but I would give away the whole story if I said much more. What Mary Jo Putney does is to bring together the romance, and these two major sub-plots seamlessly at the end. And the villain, if he be a villain, is not quite whom you suspect and for the reasons assumed.
What else did I like about this book? The penguins on the estate (did you know that Nicholas had penguins?!), the notorious billiards room scene, the ballroom scene at the Duke of Candover's, the duel between Nicholas and Michael which is heart-breaking (and test the loyalties of their friends), and the amazing interactions between Clare and the other members of her congregation.
Read this book. You won't regret it. It is not light, but it is fascinating, and you will come out of it learning more about mining in Wales and about Welsh Methodism than you ever thought.
And honestly, this is my favorite Putney, the one book of hers I would keep in my library if I had to cut down my romance collection (as I might have to soon!). The book rates at 4.9, with all the lovely twists and turns, and is even more appealing to me than her more recent SILK AND SHADOWS. Bravo, Mary Jo Putney!
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