By Love Unveiled
Normally I’m a fan of re-releases. So many romantic novels have entirely too short a shelf life, and I’ve been able to read some wonderful books I missed the first time around. However, there are some books that probably deserve to stay in the past, and By Love Unveiled is certainly one of them. In the opening notes, Sabrina Jeffries mentions that she enjoyed having a chance to revise this early novel of hers. However, the changes don’t seem to have gone far enough.
The setup of this book is an interesting one. The ridiculously named hero, Garett Lockwood, Earl of Falkham, has recently returned from exile and reclaimed his home in England. The house had changed hands several times during the unpleasant years of the English Civil War and Interregnum, going from his parents to his Puritan uncle (the even more improbably named Pitney Tearle), eventually being sold to a doctor and then restored to Garett upon his miraculous return to England. Garett is bitter about his years spent in exile, and determined to have revenge on the Puritan uncle who mistreated him.
Marianne Winchilsea has lost her father to an arrest for treason related to a plot to poison the King, and has also lost her beloved Falkham House to the newly returned earl. Also suspected in the plot against the king, Marianne’s only way to keep safe is to live as a healer among the gypsies after allowing the rumor of her suicide to be spread far and wide. Why gypsies? Well, Marianne’s mother was a beautiful gypsy, of course. And apparently 17th century baronets could get away with marrying beautiful gypsy women and still build successful medical careers that would bring them into elite circles. And yes, the eyerolling does in fact begin in Chapter 1 and continue through the end of the book.
Garett first meets Marianne (she calls herself Mina) in an apothecary shop in the village near Falkham House. However, his suspicions about her begin when she is summoned to Falkham House to tend to the injured earl, and he finds her curiously well-educated and well-spoken for a gypsy. From there a cycle begins of Garett distrusting Mina and determining to uncover her secrets, even keeping her prisoner, while also lusting after her. Mina alternately gets feisty with Garett, tries to flee from him on various occasions, and of course, keeps finding him incredibly tempting. This cycle repeats again and again with varying degrees of intensity, and the book just drags and drags along. The historical background of the story held my interest, but the characters felt a little one-dimensional, and the romance just didn’t work for me.
With regard to the romance, not only do the characters bicker and fight, but is this book ever rapetastic! We have a rapey hero, soldiers/random ruffians who come after Mina/Marianne with rape on their minds, and the almost cartoonish villain Pitney who is the rape-iest of them all. The scenes involving Pitney forcing his wife into skanky villain sex are truly uncomfortable to read. The only thing more upsetting in this book was the deflowering scene. It comes fairly late in the book, and at one point when poor Marianne tries to escape from Garett yet again, he sets the mood in this charming fashion,
“‘If you won’t give me your vow, then I must bind you to me some other way.’ And with that he took her mouth in a plundering, rough kiss.”
They go on in this fashion for several pages, sometimes with Garrett forcing his attentions on her, her telling him that he’s hurting her, and sometimes with the two of them talking, until Garrett finds out that Marianne is in fact a virgin. Poor Marianne. Seeing Garrett’s face light up at this news must have gotten her hopes up, because here is what happens next:
“Marianne nodded. Would he release her now that he realized she was a virgin? ‘Then I’m to be your first.'”
As one often finds in these types of scenarios, there is more than a hint of “she says no but her body says yes” running through this scene, and it really does make one’s skin crawl. Oh, and there is one part of this tale that makes Garett’s behavior even less lovely. Since he has no idea of Marianne’s true background, his aggressive pursuit of her is aimed only at trying to make her his mistress. I guess baronets can marry gypsies, but earls aren’t going to consider it.
I can’t quite give this book an F because I did find the setting intriguing and at times, the plot to poison King Charles II held my interest. However, the immature antics of Marianne and Garett didn’t do much for me, and Garett’s “wooing” of Marianne was downright icky at times. I’m all for revisiting romances of the past, but By Love Unveiled really didn’t need to come out of storage.
Note: This book was originally published in 1993 under the name of Deborah Martin.Second Note: This review contains mild spoilers.