Saturday, March 21, 2009
Claiming the Courtesan by Anna Campbell
I must admit I am not a fan of the courtesan/prostitute heroine because I dislike the idea of a woman having to sell her body for survival. For that reason, I did not read this book right away, although I was very intrigued by the storyline of a hero who would do just about anything to keep his heroine. I read some scenes from it at the bookstore, trying to decide if I was "ready" to read it, and I couldn't stop thinking about story and how good the writing was. Finally, I decided I had to read it and I read it within a few days of buying it.
This book is one of the best historicals I have ever read. It was intense, it was well-written, it had believable characters who made real choices, good or bad. And at the heart I think it did have a really good love story. Not the sweet and light kind, but a love story all the same. I have championed this book and I have tried to explain why Kylemore isn't a bad man. He's not an emotionally healthy man. And he does some things that are not right, namely forcing Soraya to have sex with him after he kidnaps her, not to mention kidnapping her in the first place. I would never defend or excuse that behavior. But reading the book, you can understand what his motivations are. He is completely desperate at the thought of losing her. Yes, he's like a child who has a toy taken away from him, on one level. But I believe that he is motivated by a deep, obsessive love for her. I find myself very intrigued by obsessive heroes. I don't know why because that would be really scary in real life, but I do like it in romance novels. I love when the hero truly cannot exist without the heroine.
Kylemore somehow found his way into my heart. I did find him to be a sympathetic, albeit flawed hero. There were aspects about him that I did like, such as his devotion in his own way to Soraya. He waited for Soraya for years when she was with another protector. As far I as I recall, he didn't even take another lover in that time. When he had her as his mistress, he compartmentalized their time together, making it seem that it was not as important as it was. But deep down, I believe being with her was the highlight of his existence. Also, he was going to ask Soraya to marry him. Dukes did not marry their mistresses. It just wasn't done. They had their mistresses but married virgins or respectble widows, and the two aspects of their existences didn't meet. Yes he told himself it was to anger his mother, but I believe it was because he genuinely loved Soraya and wanted to make a life with her.
So, viewing his actions in light of the facts given, I do believe that his behavior was not completely rational. His kidnapping and captivity of her was done from a knee-jerk, emotional level that wasn't ruled by logic and negated right and wrong. Not excusable, but definitely actions I could understand in light of what motivated Kylemore. There was also an aspect of knowing that as a powerful duke, he shouldn't have to be told no or be denied anything he wanted. That is the part I didn't like.
The scenes where they struggle against each other physically, mentally, and emotionally were riveting, and I didn't even want to put the book down for a minute. I was drawn in and I knew I had rarely if ever read a romance novel with this degree of complexity of relationships. In some ways it was hard to watch how Kylemore scared Verity and wore her down. At some points I wondered if he would drive her to insanity. That was painful to read. She deserved better. I wanted to tell him, "If you're trying to get this woman to stay with you and love you, you're going about it the wrong way." But Kylemore was raised by a very evil woman, his mother. How would a man raised in that environment know how to give or receive love? You could not expect that of him, considering his background.
Truly Verity was the more emotionally stable and well-adjusted of this pair. I really liked how Ms. Campbell really plays with society's concepts of morality in both this book and in Tempt the Devil, having the courtesan be the more virtous and more respectable and laudable of the pair. And truly in my mind they are (in most cases).
Back in this time period, there was no such thing as equality between the sexes. Women were property and chattel. Women's choices were extremely limited. Men had the power and they had the choice to have sex with women according to their wishes and wants. Women had to submit in various ways, either as wife or mistress. I can see that this dynamic is played out in this novel. Verity had to become a courtesan out of survival, and she did it until she was financially secure. I found it repugnant that her first protector was an older man who made her an offer to become his mistress at the young age of fifteen, and he felt that that was the right way to save her from a harrowing situation. If he really wanted to help her, he could have placed her in a safe situation and helped her to get a living that wasn't prostitution, or at least waited until she was older. But he saw how incredibly beautiful she was and wanted her. Thus his motives were selfish and although Verity now had some protection, he sent her into the life of a demimondaine.
Verity/Soraya accepted her position as a courtesan and made the best of it, but it wasn't the life she wanted. When Kylemore made her an offer, it was business, pure and simple. She could not make the mistake of getting her heart involved. She didn't expect Kylemore to be emotionally involved either. When their two year contract was up, she had achieved the means for financial security. There was no reason to continue in that life. By leaving Kylemore, she could close her life on one chapter and start another. I want to reread this book to study again how the wall broke down and Verity was able to love Kylemore. I think that this part is probably one of the most important elements, because knowing that she accepts and loves him doesn't make what he did okay, but at least you can hope that they will have a hopeful future together and that there can be some emotional healing for both of them.
Words fail me to express why I loved this book so much.I just did. It's not for the faint of heart reader who wants a happy-go-lucky rakish hero who wouldn't ever consider harming a woman or doing anything she didn't consent to. But for a reader who is willing to put aside their list of what a hero does and doesn't do and read this book and evaluate Kylemore as an individual, I believe that this reader may find that there are untapped depths to this book that make it a fascinating and enjoyable read.