He could be her ruin
Hugh Redvers is supposed to be dead. So the appearance of the sun-bronzed giant with the piratical black eye patch is deeply disturbing to Lady Daphne Davenport. And her instant attraction to the notorious privateer is not only wildly inappropriate for a proper widow but potentially disastrous. Because he is also the man Daphne has secretly cheated of title, lands, and fortune.
She could be his salvation
Daphne Redvers’ distant, untouchable beauty and eminently touchable body are hard enough to resist. But the prim, almost severe, way she looks at him suggests this might be the one woman who can make him forget all the others. His only challenge? Unearthing the enemy who threatens her life . . . and uncovering the secrets in her cool blue eyes.
AAR staffers Shannon Dyer, Lisa Fernandes and Em Wittmann read Minerva Spencer’s Barbarous and got together to share their thoughts on the novel.
EBW: Well ladies, I straight up loved this and would rate it a DIK. I picked it up early on a Sunday morning and couldn’t put it down until I finished it later that night. I had a bit of trepidation after Ms. Spencer’s first novel, Dangerous (which I enjoyed, but thought had one too many twists), but this time there’s just enough happening outside of the romance to keep readers engrossed and engaged from start to finish. The principal characters – especially the naughty and wonderful Hugh – are particularly well-realized, and the story itself is compelling, romantic and wholly entertaining. Did you like Barbarous?
LF: I found it to be fun in general, nicely twisty, with a good and slow-burning romance, but there were spots when it was a little bit genre-typical; an interesting combination between old school romance (Wicked, greedy cousins! Prodigal sons returning to the nest! Rogues who are wounded boys in need of redeeming! Pirates! Switched lives! Smart, punchy heroine! A whiff of the incestual!) and the modern (Daphne is a mother, a glasses-wearing nerd type, but she’s tough as hell).
SD: I really enjoyed it, but didn’t find it quite worthy of DIK status. I sometimes thought the author was trying too hard to include a ton of unnecessary tropes rather than allowing her story to stand on its own. Still, I’m glad I read it, and I definitely plan to read something else by her at some point.
LF: What did you think of Daphne? Did you find her the right kind of spunky? I loved that she actually loved her late husband and was good with her kids. I was pleased by how tough she was, and how smart. But I wasn’t into her turning into something of a helpless damsel in the last quarter of the book (she redeems herself by the skin of her teeth at the very end but it was one heck of a thoughtless choice that led to it), and the whole sexual education part of her relationship with Hugh… eh, been there, seen it. She was sometimes another scholarly heroine whose intellect failed at the most crucial of times.
EBW: I liked her, and her constant frustration over her lust for Hugh. It was a nice contrast to her gentle affection for her late husband, her boys, and the life she managed to cobble together after her disastrous teenage years. I thought Ms. Spencer did a great job showing all the contrasting parts of her and how love (and lust) and simply overwhelm all of our best intentions.
I find that this author doesn’t really do anything by halves and after enjoying the first book despite so many things going on, she’s managed to scale back the more, more, more, this time out. I didn’t mind the wicked, greedy cousin! The prodigal son returning home! The tender rogue or the pirates… it all clicked for me. I just loved the dynamic between Daphne and Hugh – and I liked them individually as well – and that allowed me to just go with the flow.
SD: Daphne was a likable enough heroine, but she doesn’t stand out all that well from countless others I’ve encountered over the years. I always love a scholarly heroine, but the last portion of the story made me question her intelligence. She didn’t use her brain when it counted, and I found that frustrating.
LF: How did you like Hugh? I loved his undercover honorability – his secret core of kindness and guilt beneath the wild hellion exterior and playful sexuality, how very into Daphne he was, and how he was swept away by falling into the family, and in the end loving her boys as much as he loved her. And he’s fun and smooth and macho and alluring in the correct places as well.
EBW: I could probably rhapsodize for quite a while about how much I liked Hugh; he’s a wonderful romance hero and he absolutely elevates this story. He’s making my shortlist of favorite characters. I usually dislike children in romance novels, but witnessing Hugh’s affection for Daphne’s boys and his tender/gruff interactions with them tugged at my heart. I loved those relationships too.
SD: Hugh is everything I love in a hero. He knows how to be strong and assertive when he needs to, but he’s not afraid to show his softer side either. I’m constantly dismayed by these men who are determined not to show even a speck of vulnerability, so Hugh gets extra points from me for being so willing to show how he really felt. We need more men like him in today’s romance novels.
LF: The romance was interesting, and does follow some of the usual genre beats but twists them; Daphne has loved Hugh since she was a child, he is lustfully attracted to her even though it’s wrong, Hugh sprouts pounding woodys just thinking of Daphne, etc. – they banter and hate until they actually know each other, and the chemistry is nicely crackling. But by the time they get together the relationship is wonderfully evenly balanced especially the level of banter and give and take. How did you feel about the romance?
SD: Ms. Spencer definitely knows how to write a believable romance. Sure, it fell prey to a few overused tropes, but by and large, it worked for me. Daphne and Hugh managed to balance each other out incredibly well, and I loved watching their relationship deepen over the course of the story. Their chemistry was fantastic, and I never felt like Ms. Spencer was working too hard to convince me of the feelings these two had for one another.
LF: Did you like any of the minor characters? I found Rowena particularly amusing, and I liked Will’s roguishness. And I enjoyed the way the family of servants, children and Daphne and Hugh slowly coalesced into something beautiful.
EBW: I definitely thought the secondary characters enhanced the story (especially the boys) and the principal relationship. Unfortunately, the villains were a bit underdeveloped. I didn’t understand the dynamic between Calitain and Jean-Paul. Were they a couple or just partners or master and servant? Trying to figure them out distracted me from their dastardly plot… which wasn’t very dastardly or evil at all. The lead up was exciting and I feared for Daphne, but then the final confrontation wasn’t nearly as explosive or thrilling as I hoped it would be. That was the biggest disappointment for me.
LF: I think the end of the book is definitely what pulls my grade down from an A and what weakens its overall impact for me; the Calitain/Jean-Paul part of things, Daphne going from spunky to soggy, just everything about it left me cold. The epilogue shored things up but ugh, I wish the ending had been rewritten.
SD: The supporting characters were… okay. I felt like I’d seen most of them before, albeit in different guises. Rowena did make me laugh a time or two, and the children were quite delightful, but none of them felt very memorable. I’m a sucker for stories with a ‘found family’ element, and Ms. Spencer does a fairly good job of showing me that the characters really were a family unit, but I still came away needing a bit more to make me fully invested.
LF: What did you think about the historical setting? This seemed to me to be a ‘wallpaper’ historical, where things weren’t completely period accurate; did you find everything well set and researched? Were there any other flaws?
EBW: My biggest problem with the book was her treatment of Daphne’s assault and her memory of the event. Ms. Spencer seemed to want it both ways – a darkly horrifying event in Daphne’s past that informed her relationship to her cousin, but not enough to traumatize her in a new relationship because she was (well, I don’t want to spoil this detail for anyone so I’ll simply allude to what you already know) during it. I know why she did this – but it doesn’t quite work.
SD: I’m kind of on the fence about the research. Obviously, authors take certain liberties when writing historical novels, so I don’t feel I can fault her too much for the ones she chose to take here. On the other hand, some things just felt glaringly incongruous, and I honestly think some more in-depth study of British history could have been helpful to her.
LF: What of the plot in general? Did you find it gripping enough?
SD: The beginning didn’t hook me in at all, but things got more interesting once I was about a quarter way through the book. I got a little tired of what felt like a constant need to take the reader by surprise, and I think I would have liked it better if it hadn’t been quite so twisty. I have yet to read Dangerous, so I’m not sure how it compares, but it did seem twistier than most romances I’ve read.
LF: What about the style in general? Did you like it? Was it smooth?
SD: I did enjoy the author’s writing and general narrative style. I didn’t notice anything particularly jarring about her craft, but neither did it wow me. There are a ton of really fabulous historical authors out there, and while Ms. Spencer is talented, she doesn’t yet compare to some of the greats.
LF: What’s your final grade? I’m going with a B+; a fine novel, mildly flawed, but the ending just pulls it out of pure DIK territory for me.
EBW: I was totally engaged in this story from start to finish; I liked the principal and secondary characters (well, I liked the ‘good’ guys), and aside from the author’s dodge on Daphne’s traumatic past with her cousin, I enjoyed pretty much everything about it. It’s an A- for me.
SD: I’m giving this one a B. The hero was swoon worthy, and the romance itself was extremely well-drawn, but there were some aspects of the story that fell flat.