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The September Queen, by Gillian Bagwell

Title: The September Queen
Author: Gillian Bagwell
Year of Publication: 2011
Length: 389 pages
Genre: historical fiction
New or Re-Read?: New
Rating: 3 wobbly stars

I have tremendously mixed feelings about this book. The 3-star rating is sort of an average, which is why it’s wobbly and rather blurry around the edges. There are things I liked about it better than that, and there are things I disliked it on the level of a 2-star book.

The September Queen is the story of Jane Lane, who played a critical part in helping Charles Stuart, who would become Charles II, escape from England following his defeat to Parliamentarian forces at the Battle of Worcester. During their flight, Charles and Jane become lovers. Most of the book takes place during the Interregnum, an under-represented period in historical fiction, but the events cast their shadows both forward and backward, as the narration reveals what came before and the nuances of the political struggle, and as most readers inclined to pick up this book probably know that Charles does, in fact, reclaim the throne of England. (Hope I didn’t just spoil the 17th century for anyone, there).

So, we begin with Charles about to make what would be his last great stand against Cromwell’s forces, through the eyes of a well-bred girl from the local gentry. I was inclined to be on Jane’s side from the start.

I have come to the great age of five and twenty, and but one man has stirred my heart, and that came to naught. An old maid, her eldest sister, Withy, would say.

What is wrong with me? Jane wondered. Why can I not like any man well enough to want to wed him? It is not as though I am such a great prize. Pretty enough, I suppose, in face and form, but no great beauty. Witty, and learned, but those features are of little use in a woman, of little use to a man who wants a wife to be mistress of his estate and mother to his heirs.

What if there will never be someone for me?

I empathize. As the book went on, though, it got a bit harder for me. Jane wishes for adventure and gets far, far more than she bargained for — and in that sense, her story rings as a cautionary tale. And she loses herself in the bargain. She falls desperately in love with Charles while helping him escape and spends the rest of the book mooning over him, despite not seeing him for years at a time. Years. Years during which she lives a celibate life, shuffled between the courts of his relatives, while Charles is out doing pretty much everyone he encounters, occasionally dropping Jane a line to let her know that he’s going to give her some money someday. It’s a terribly uneven relationship, and it paints Jane in a pretty pathetic light. I do appreciate that, eventually, at the end, she tells Charles just what he’s done to her. She forces him to own up to that, and it’s a very powerful moment. But this flicker of self-awareness and empowerment comes far too late in the story, and she backs away from it pretty quickly.

As I read more books about the Interregnum and Restoration (the period appears to be growing in popularity, perhaps as authors and readers both realise that it has a whole lot more sex appeal built right in than the Tudors did), the overwhelming message seems to be one that reinforces the importance of female fidelity, while casually shrugging off male philandering. If you really love him, this model says, it doesn’t matter how many other women he’s seeing. He’ll value you for staying true even when he ignores you for years at a time. That’s how you know that your love is pure, and that you’re superior to all those other avaricious/libidinous whores. Since so much of Jane’s story is a historical blank, I would have loved to have seen Bagwell take some more exciting risks with it — give her a love affair with someone else, some other dashing Cavalier in exile, rather than just swallowing her feelings for ten years and enduring like a good little neglected cast-off. Instead, she ends up in emotional paralysis for a full decade and for most of the book — and that’s both frustrating and a little boring to read. Ultimately, it made it much harder for me to like Jane as a character. I lost respect for her, more and more so as the book went on and she shied away from every opportunity to assert herself. I would have liked to have seen some show of spirit from this woman that Bagwell so clearly wanted us to believe was intelligent, capable, and special. Perhaps this is why I’ve always had a soft spot for Barbara Palmer, even though in many ways she really was a nasty piece of work. She was a fascinating study in contrasts, vivacious and temperamental, kind and cruel, extravagant and exuberant, envied and detested — and she, at least, didn’t allow Charles to hold her to a higher moral standard than he held himself to. Perhaps some historical novelist will take up the challenge of Barbara soon — I would find it a tremendously welcome change from the narrative of pathetic, doomed fidelity.

Other things I disliked were more on the side of technique. Jane is, emotional paralysis aside, a little too perfect. Everyone adores her, from men she spurns to half the princesses and queens in Europe. Though she undoubtedly has trouble in her life, she has no personal enemies whatsoever — or even personal rivals. She never encounters most of those she competes with for the king’s affection, or encounters them only briefly and at a distance. Not only is it rather unbelievable, it makes the story a little dull in places. I was aching for something — anything — by way of actual conflict. In the first half of the book, we at least get the excitement of evading Cromwell’s army, but in the second half of the book? Nada. Even Jane’s conflicted feelings about Charles mostly take place at a distance, and when her cousin and then her brother find out about her affair, their anger with her lasts less than two pages. This utter lack of personal conflict gives the book a rather meandering feel, without a real drive, particularly since the exciting historical events happen at such a distance once Jane is removed from the immediacy of Charles’s story.

My other major criticism is of pacing. The first half of the book takes place in a matter of days; the latter half over a decade. That alone makes for a somewhat odd read. There are ways in which I feel this book might’ve been better if it had been more of the first and hardly any of the second. Even within each half, though, there are definite pacing oddities, and for the first hundred pages or so, the book seems very uncertain what it wants its mood or even its genre to be. The story doesn’t flow particularly well.

Overall, this is a very sad book, I think. The reader knows from the start, if she knows anything at all about Charles II, that the romance is doomed. Honestly, I’m surprised that in the thorough peppering of Shakespearean quotations (appropriate in places, annoyingly intrusive in others), Bagwell resisted the urge to refer to Charles as “one who loved not wisely but too well” — which is (taking the quote removed from original context) how I’ve always thought of him. Bounteous with his affections, not a drop of malice in him — but utterly faithless, incapable of loyalty, and very much an “out of sight, out of mind” sort of man. And so I find Jane’s story very sad — and not in a moving or cathartic way, just in a vaguely dissatisfying way. Charles ruins her life, flat-out. Not only does he tear her from her home, her family, her country, her friends, not only is he the direct cause of dire misfortune for her, but he steals her heart and never gives it back. It makes him seem tremendously selfish, among other faults. He strings her along for ten years, knowing he can’t promise her fulfillment but unwilling to let her go. She loses a decade to him, and, despite the ending (which I’m trying very hard not to spoil), I never got the sense she ever really breaks free of his influence. Which I think is more tragic than anything else that happens to her.

So, really, I don’t know how to recommend this book. If you don’t mind being as conflicted as I was, or if you just plain like the Restoration that much, it’s worth the read. I do commend Bagwell for taking on such a little-known heroine. It was a treat to read a historical novel without an awareness of the major details of the story; I mean, though I knew she couldn’t end up with Charles, I didn’t know what would happen to her, if she would marry eventually and who, where her travels would take her. I got to find all of that out as I went along, which is almost never the case for such a thorough history geek like me. (And I somehow mastered the urge to get on the DNB and spoil myself, which is even more impressive). I did also enjoy the sexy bits — while they lasted. One of the many genres The September Queen tries on in those first hundred pages is straight-up romance novel, and those are actually some of the best bits (not least because they seem to have the strongest sense of intention). As I stated at the beginning of the review, this book averages out to 3 stars… but just barely, and that mostly on the credit of taking on an obscure character. After having enjoyed The Darling Strumpet so much, this one rather let me down.

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The Darling Strumpet, by Gillian Bagwell

Title: The Darling Strumpet
Author: Gillian Bagwell
Year of Publication: 2011
Length: 376 pages
Genre: historical fiction
New or Re-Read?: New
Rating: 4 enthusiastic stars

Now this was the novel about Nell Gwyn I was waiting for!

The Darling Strumpet is definitely a grittier version of her story than Exit the Actress was. Here she is, unapologetically, a whore. And, while Bagwell doesn’t flinch away from some of the nastier elements of the profession (including disease, alcoholism, beatings, and rape), she comes to quite enjoy aspects of her life between the sheets — particularly once she’s servicing delightfully decadent noblemen rather than common folk. The line between prostitute and mistress is drawn in silk, but it also comes with a lot more security, both physical and financial. Bagwell presents Nell’s sex life vividly and without judgment, and it’s enough to make more vanilla readers squirm, I’d imagine. Fortunately, I am no vanilla reader. I loved that Bagwell was willing to go to some saucier places, to indulge so fully in the libidinous excesses of the time period. The morals (or, perhaps, lack thereof) embraced and celebrated in the wake of the Protectorate were not nearly so straight-laced as we tend to think of English history (nor, come to it, as our own). Bagwell presents the world of Restoration London in all its dubious glory: gilt-edged and soot-stained at the same time.

Bagwell also follows through on the story, taking Nell from childhood all the way through her death, and she does so in a way that feels quite true to life. Nell changes over time — not dramatically, not suddenly, but with the sort of ebb and flow that comes with age and experience. She starts out a reckless child, throwing her virginity away for a pittance, and then she learns some street-smarts, aided by her sister. When she takes to the theatre, first as an orange-girl and then as an actress, that’s another major change for her life. She very nearly settles down, first with an early patron, then with the actor Charles Hart, but practicality and passion win out — she can make more money and have more fun keeping her options open. She learns valuable lessons from her interactions with Johnny Rochester and Charles Sackville, though they’re lessons of different kinds — Johnny teachers her many bedroom tricks and introduces her to new pleasures, and they remain friends, but Sackville’s careless treatment teachers her to be wary and keep her wits about her. When she finally lands the greatest prize of all, King Charles II himself, she has to learn how to keep him by carving out a niche for herself in his heart. Charles has many lovers, of course, and the ones who stay are the ones who can stake out unique territory. Nell manages it by mastering her jealousy (though we do see French Louise get under her skin no little bit) and through her total disinterest in politics. Then, as she grows older and becomes a mother, her objectives change. She no longer flings herself so heedlessly into excitement and intrigue; she finds that she quite prefers the company of an intimate few and the quiet charm of her own home. It’s a natural progression, and it’s nice to see it handled so well; Nell’s still the same person, but we get to see her change over time.

My major criticism of this book is that Bagwell doesn’t quite seem know what to do with action sequences. Her sections on the plague and the Great Fire lack some punch, which is a shame, because those are two major events in this time period, and they have a lot of dramatic potential. Bagwell sort of rushes through them. There are also places where the story feels a bit disjointed. She’s much better with character than with plot, and the personal bits — the interactions between characters, the internal contemplations — are where this story shines. She also includes a great many of the popular anecdotes and witty quips attributed to Nell, but they don’t always fit in neatly with the narrative. Sometimes it feels like she was shoehorning them in, either because she liked them too much to leave them out or because she thought they were expected.

On the whole, I thoroughly enjoyed The Darling Strumpet. It’s refreshingly honest about both history and human sexuality, and it covers its topic quite nicely. I’m looking forward to Bagwell’s upcoming book, The September Queen, which focuses on another woman in Charles II’s life, though this is one I know very little about — Jane Lane, who helped a very young Charles escape England during the Civil War. I’m interested to see how Bagwell approaches less well-known subject matter.

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The King’s Courtesan, by Judith James

Title: The King’s Courtesan
King's CourtesanAuthor: Judith James
Year of Publication: 2011
Length: 384 pages
Genre: historical romance
New or Re-Read? brand-new
Rating: a little shy of 3 stars

I feel like I expected more from this book. I can’t tell you how excited I was at the idea of a non-virginal heroine — they’re tremendously rare in my experience of historical romances, and about half the time, if the girl isn’t a virgin at the opening of the book, it’s because of a previous tryst with the hero, not because of any other indiscretion. Even if that’s historically accurate when it comes to the upper classes of English society in certain historical periods… well, who cares? It’s not like romance authors adhere strictly to other historical details. It’s probably not as strictly accurate as we tend to think, for one thing, and there are ways around that, for another. I’d just love to read more historicals where the girl is either a known soiled dove or where she’s had an indiscretion that she keeps secret — but she still gets to find true love, anyway. There’s just an odd slut-shaming shadow to all of the “I’m so glad I’m the only man to ever have her” tropes, and it rubs me a bit the wrong way. Like Harold Hill, I smile and grin for the gal with a touch of sin. Whether she just honestly enjoys physical pleasure, knows it, and has sought it out illicitly, or whether she made a mistake she regrets, or even if she was ravished and has to deal with that — I find all of those more compelling than the unending parade of virgins awakening to their bodies. So when I found out that The King’s Courtesan would feature a heroine who not only isn’t a virgin, but who is an honest-to-devil whore, I was so pleased. At last! Something new! Something scandalous! Something taboo!

Trouble is, it’s undercut a bit. She might be a courtesan, but she’s only had three men (a fact which will later on be tremendously reassuring to the hero, and I find there to be all kinds of sexual judgments and virtuous hair-splitting logic wrapped up in this), and James only hints around the edges of the emotional and psychological implications of the situation. Hope spends a lot more time thinking about how she wants to garden.

This book pairs up with James’s previous book, Libertine’s Kiss, which I enjoyed a lot more, not least because those characters seemed to be enjoying themselves a lot more. The King’s Courtesan is also set in Restoration England, its hero is a prior suitor of Elizabeth Walters from Libertine’s Kiss, and its heroine is a spinoff of the famous Restoration actress-turned-maitresse-en-titre Nell Gwyn. This ought to be a recipe for a romping good time. Instead, it falls pretty flat. King Charles, inexplicably deciding he can’t keep Hope Mathews around once his new Portuguese queen arrives (not something that ever seemed to bother the historical Charlie), marries her off to Captain Robert Nichols. The deal is that if Robert takes the girl, he gets to keep his family’s lands, which Charles was otherwise planning to hand over to another nobleman. (It turns out that this same nobleman is one of a group responsible for Robert’s sister’s death, which ought to be a much more interesting plot development than it was). Hope gets married entirely without her will or consent — in fact, she thinks it’s just part of a May Day celebration proclaiming them King and Queen of May. No one told her that the guy conducting the ceremonies was a real priest. This troubling bit of duplicity initially makes her furious at both Robert and Charles, but it never gets explored much beyond that, and once she realises Robert didn’t know she hadn’t been informed of the situation, she shrugs it off pretty easily.

I’m starting to notice a trend in James’s writing, which is that her characters, especially her heroes, are theoretically emotionally stunted and unable to deal with their problems… and then they spend a lot of time talking about those problems that they claim they can’t talk about. The men are all tragically wounded souls with grievous troubles, which they then spend pages and pages pouring out on the heroines. It’s starting to become tedious. I’d like to see her try a different formula.

All of that talking means there’s a decided lack of action in the book. It starts off well enough, but then Robert and Hope spend most of the book rusticating in the country. And they don’t do much while they’re there. From the description on the jacket, I was expecting a tumultuous domestic battle, each striving to dominate the other’s will before they came to terms… but instead, Robert and Hope discover pretty quickly that the King duped them both, agree to make the best of it, and settle down pretty quickly. When the plot finally gears back up towards the end, it feels artificial and unsatisfying. Robert doesn’t appear to have much of a character beyond his haunted past, and with Hope, James seems to be relying a little too heavily on the crutch of Nell Gwyn’s shadow. She lets the reference draw the character for her a little more than is effective.

Overall, I had really hoped for more from this book. All the ingredients for a really compelling read were there, they just entirely failed to come together in an engaging way. The sex scenes are pretty good — James does have a talent for describing passion, I’ll give her that much. The characters are weak, though, the plot lacks action, and the hero and heroine don’t have much of a spark apart from the sex scenes — which sort of makes those scenes just seem a bit odd and out of place. I think I’d have rather read a second book about William and Elizabeth from Libertine’s Kiss, honestly — their cameos in this book make it seem like they’re still having a smashing good time.

Also, Ms. James? If what you want to do is write historical fiction, to explore the psyches of real historical persons? Just do that. Really. I can tell that’s what you want to do — especially with King Charles. Just go for it.

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Exit the Actress, by Priya Parmar

Title: Exit the Actress
Author: Priya Parmar
Year of Publication: 2011
Length: 444 pages
Genre: historical fiction
New or Re-Read?: New
Rating: 3 stars (largely for the strength of the source story, less so for what’s done with it)

Exit the Actress is cute and a bit quirky, but ultimately falls short of my hopes. The book tells the story of Eleanor Gwyn, called Ellen or Nell, who rises from selling oysters in the streets of London as a child, first to the ranks of the theatre, then to the royal court as a mistress to the famously libidinous King Charles II. Along the way, she gets entangled with the other famous names of the day — Thomas Killigrew (chief shareholder of the company), Edward Kyneston (of Stage Beauty fame), Charles Hart (the famous leading man of the period), Margaret Hughes (first known English actress), Aphra Behn (first professional female playwright), John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester (infamous libertine), and a host of other playwrights, poets, actors, actresses, and courtiers. The period of the Restoration is utterly fascinating for how riotous and contradictory it was, and Parmar does a satisfactory job of bringing that atmosphere across.

Parmar tells the story chiefly through Gwyn’s imagined diary, but also through playbills, gossip columns, letters between the king and his family, recipes, and other paper detritus — all of it fictional or fictionalized, which is a bit of a shame, because including some of the originals would have been fascinating. It’s clear that Parmar (a former dramaturg) is familiar with the sources, because plenty of juicy tidbits, anecdotes, and fun facts find their way into the novel, but they all feel somewhat watered-down. It’s definitely a creative way of telling the story, though, and it helps Parmar escape the trap too often presented by telling a story in the first person. The letters, particularly, let the reader see a world larger than Ellen’s, full of politics, war, and intrigues, and they expose a great deal more of the Stuart family dynamics

On the whole, it seems a rather sanitized version of Nell Gwyn’s story. The world certainly glitters — perhaps a bit too much. Parmar elevates Gwyn from guttersnipe origins to something rather more genteel — her mother is only an occasional bawd, her sister the better kind of prostitute. Ellen herself is not harassed or threatened — she merely encounters hints that maybe she ought to follow her sister into the morally questionable life. It’s not nearly so dark a vision as I’d more easily imagine for a penniless family ruled by a drunkard in the 1660s. The very harshest moment in the entire book is when Charles Hart calls her a whore — and even that dramatic moment pulls its punch a bit. Cleaning the story up robs it of a lot of potential. The familial stresses between Charles, Henrietta Maria, James, Jemmy, and the rest are mentioned but largely glossed over. Barbara Castlemaine, a fantastic harridan with the potential to be a hugely compelling character and worthy antagonist, remains almost entirely off-screen, as it were — referred to often but almost never seen in the moment. Nell’s rivalries with other actresses get dismissed as mere rumors, because sweet Ellen would never be so wicked. Even Johnny Rochester’s considerable troubles, violent nature, and vicious wit are somewhat fobbed off as lovable roguishness — they also almost all happen off-screen, again pulling the punch. I also have trouble believing that the backstage world of the Theatre Royal was quite so consistently chummy and supportive. There’s sporting rivalry with another company, but none of the cutthroat competition you’d expect. Additionally, for all the talk of Ellen the Actress, who gets her courage from the theatre and loves it so passionately, the discourse of the story spends precious little time actually involved with theatrical matters. I enjoyed a lot of the tidbits Parmar threw my way, particularly concerning obscure titles, but I wanted more of that and less of Ellen rusticating in the country.

We also see none of “pretty, witty Nell” — this is not the story of an impishly charming redhead whose quick wit, bold manner, and cheerful disposition win the hearts of London and King Charles II. Instead, this is the story of a tongue-tied, hesitant mouse, who has significant trouble asserting herself and who lands favours and attention based primarily off of the machinations of scheming courtiers and well-meaning friends alike. There’s no fire in this Ellen, no spark of mischief, no brilliance, and precious little passion. As a result, in the moments when she ought to be most scintillating, she comes off as rather dull or sappy. It feels a bit as though Parmar didn’t want her heroine to occasionally do nasty things, and so she hedges around them, excuses them, dismisses them as rumor, or leaves them out entirely. Her Ellen is just a little too impossibly perfect. Everyone loves her, but Parmar never offers compelling evidence as to why. She fails to bring across the irresistible charisma that the historical Nell Gwyn reportedly had.

Even more frustrating, Parmar leaves the story off with her ascension to maitresse en titre and mother to a king’s bastard — which seems an odd choice, considering that Ellen spends most of the book declaring that she wants to be something more than that. We never actually see her have to deal with the implications of her elevation. It also robs us of the opportunity to see her famous rivalry with Louise de Kérouaille — perhaps because Nell’s recorded behaviour towards the French mistress didn’t quite fit with Parmar’s vision of a gentler-spirited Ellen.

So, overall, readable, but not quite what I was hoping it would be. I’ve also got The Darling Strumpet waiting to be read, so we’ll see how that fares in comparison to this first read on the same subject.

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Libertine’s Kiss, by Judith James

Title: Libertine’s Kiss
Author: Judith James
Year of Publication: 2010Libertine's Kiss
Length: 384 pages
Genre: historical romance
New or Re-Read?: New book and a new author
Rating: 4 stars

I’ve been saying for a while that I wish more historical romance authors would plumb new, under-explored eras for their potential. The overwhelming majority of historical romances are Regency romances — and there’s nothing wrong with those, I adore them (clearly), but they do make up a hefty chunk of the market. What’s left tends to be vague medieval tales — often not set with any specific historical framework in mind, but dropped rather blindly into Ye Olde Englande or Bonny Scotland, with only the vaguest gesture at authenticity. Others will wander a little later, heading on through the Victorian era (Lisa Kleypas has done this particularly well) — but by and large, Regencies still seem to rule the roost.

Libertine’s Kiss takes place in one of the eras I’ve long considered ripe for the plucking: Restoration England, just following the return of lively, lusty Charles II to the throne. Far from being a stable and ever-growing empire, England’s just coming out of a few decades of civil war, and that turmoil sets the backdrop for Libertine’s Kiss. Elizabeth and William were childhood friends, verging on sweethearts, but the political upsets separated them, and so when, years later, William stumbles into the house of a Puritan widow, wounded and seeking aid, he doesn’t recognize her. She knows him, though, and they share a steamy night together (and you’ve got to love a book that gets to the sex less than 30 pages in). They get separated again, though, and as the political wheel turns, Lizzie loses her lands and wealth thanks to her father’s sympathies once the royalists are back in power. She goes to court to appeal to King Charles for redress of her grievances… only to discover William again.

What I love about this is that it’s romance with a dark side, romance with a seedy underbelly. There are not nice and neat sets of rules to be obeyed like in Regency romances. Preserving one’s reputation is far less of a concern. Indeed, a girl can hardly count herself as being worth notice unless there’s some scandal attached to her name — as Elizabeth Walters discovers. And both the characters have some psychological trauma — Lizzie from an abusive spouse, William from an abusive tutor in his childhood. Both of them are, in a way, damaged goods, but it’s William who has the more visible scars — he drinks too much, he’s a shameless rake (not a toothless breed as in Regency romances, but here a real seducer and debaucher), he has a scathing and vicious wit… and yet, underneath all of that, you can still see the hero. It’s nice to see an author not flinch from giving this sort of depth to the characters, to let a story go to those dark places.

Despite the darkness, this book is a lot of fun — especially once Lizzie decides to make the best of the situation and enjoy herself as a merry widow. Lizzie and William both have a lot of hurt and a lot of pain in their pasts, but you can see them helping each other back to the light. They have to face their demons, and once they do — fireworks. Literally. 😉

The book is populated with some of the other wonderful (and real) characters of the era — Samuel Pepys, Barbara Palmer, and King Charles himself. James also weaves in some fantastic poetry, much of it borrowed from the fantastic Earl of Rochester, others from Robert Herrick, John Donne, Edmund Spenser, and so on. It’s nice to see an author relying on verse that isn’t Shakespeare’s — much though I do love Shakespeare, it’s almost become a cliche in historical romances to use his lines as supplements. James shows a lot of creativity, particularly in how she weaves the story of Britomart from The Faerie Queene into Lizzie and William’s story, and she proves herself quite well-read. My favourite poetic insertion:

A sweet disorder in the dress
Kindles in clothes a wantonness:
A lawn about the shoulders thrown
Into a fine distraction–
An erring lace, which here and there
Enthrals the crimson stomacher–
A cuff neglectful, and thereby
Ribbands to flow confusedly–
A winning wave, deserving note,
In the tempestuous petticoat–
A careless shoe-string, in whose tie
I see a wild civility–
Do more bewitch me than when art
Is too precise in every part.

William recites this to Lizzie while explaining to her the court fashion to appear a bit disheveled — another nice touch, showing that James knows her sartorial details as well. And I love Restoration clothes — curls and ribbons and fripperies, all designed to look as though they’re about to fall right off. It’s the sort of lush indulgence that permeates the atmosphere of the whole book. James’s writing style is particularly well-suited for this time period, as she gives herself over to the sort of heady descriptions and sensuous delights that the folk of the Restoration court so appreciated.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I’d love to see more of its ilk out on the market. I recommend this book to anyone who’s looking to break out of the standard fare of historical romance. With James, you get the Happy Ever After, but you have to endure quite a bit more to get there. If you’re up for a bumpier, darker, and altogether thrilling ride, Libertine’s Kiss might be just the thing.

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