Desert Isle Keeper
Note: The books in the Enlightenment trilogy build on each other. To understand the relationship between the principals and to avoid spoilers in this review, you should read Provoked and Beguiled first.
Enlightened is the last book in the Enlightenment trilogy and the strongest. Unlike the previous novels wherein David Lauriston struggled to accept his sexuality and then to develop – for the first time – a physical and emotional relationship with another man, Enlightenment begs the question: What happens after you’ve met the love of your life? Ms. Chambers largely eschews the political and social focus of the first two books to concentrate on the evolving romantic relationship between David and Murdo Balfour as they each try to answer that question. Regrets, missteps, and misunderstandings ensue, but Ms. Chambers brilliantly dovetails the evolving relationship (and its inherent challenges) with a subplot that emerged in Provoked, ended in a dramatic cliffhanger in Beguiled, and reaches its conclusion in Enlightened. The subplot – and the familiar secondary characters involved in it – slowly and irrevocably bind the men to one another. This trilogy – and the relationship at its heart – is one for the ages; tender, moving and deeply romantic.
Told exclusively from David’s point of view, the story picks up not long after the cliffhanger ending in Beguiled, wherein he was badly injured helping his friend Lady Elizabeth Kinnell (née Chalmers) escape an abusive husband. He’s spent the past five months at Laverock, Murdo’s Highland estate, recuperating from a badly broken leg, and those months have been the happiest of his life. Acting as Murdo’s man of business/secretary, he’s discovered the work is both satisfying and fulfilling – as is his romantic relationship with Murdo. The days pass swiftly in blissful sojourn from the outside world, but unfortunately, as David’s leg becomes stronger, so too does the pressing need he feels to return to his practice and a life he’s essentially left behind in Edinburgh. The sadness and fear he feels about his future – without Murdo (more on that in a bit) – is palpable and devastating. Especially since it’s clear to the reader, if not to David, that Murdo loves him and profoundly dislikes any mention of a separation between them. Adding to David’s anxiety about the future is a nagging suspicion that Murdo is keeping a secret and despite their emotional and physical closeness, he’s never forgotten Murdo’s angry words from long ago:
“Christ, why don’t you just let yourself have a bit of happiness? Marry a woman who loves you and slake your needs with men on occasion. It’s not as though thousands of others don’t do it every day!”
Unwilling to share Murdo and convinced he still intends to marry, David despairs over the end of their relationship. Meanwhile, Murdo continues to rebuff his attempts to discuss leaving Laverock – until their idyll is abruptly interrupted when word reaches them that David’s mentor and friend, Patrick Chalmers, is near death at his home in Edinburgh.
When Murdo and David return to the city, things are already changing between them. Though they continue to be affectionate and tender with each other in private, the stress of leaving their hideaway and the reality of returning to a world in which they cannot openly be together wreaks havoc on their association . While Murdo is obviously desperate to convince David they can have a future together, David continues to think otherwise, and it’s incredibly frustrating to witness David’s blindness to Murdo’s affection and love. A visit to Patrick Chalmers, wherein he asks David to look after Elizabeth and confesses to an extramarital love affair, leave David shaken and moved. Patrick’s regrets – that he never confessed his love for his paramour before her death – resonate deeply with David. He loves Murdo – but can’t allow himself to believe they can be together.
The conversation with Patrick – and his concerns about Elizabeth’s continued safety in London – precipitate David continuing on from Edinburgh to London with Murdo. Murdo, though by all appearances happy to have David accompany him, nevertheless seems tense and keeps his business in town a secret, although David suspects it has to do with his father. The men are alternately tender and angry with each other and before long, events are set in motion that prove fateful to their future. Murdo’s shocking secret is finally – maliciously and disastrously – revealed by his father, and the subplot involving Elizabeth Chalmers and her abusive husband reaches a climax.
Over the preceding novels, Ms. Chambers slowly and inexorably bound Murdo and David to each other – but in this final novel, she brilliantly merges the culmination of the subplot to effect a resolution of their relationship that satisfies on every level. And now, she brilliantly pulls together all the crumbs and disparate plot threads she’s nurtured over the course of the three novels and in a brave, enlightening masterstroke severs them and their dragging weight on the burgeoning love affair between Murdo and David. The release – and the subsequent new bond they form with each other – provides them the means to forge a new way forward. Together. Murdo is masterful and David FINALLY stops pushing him away. I loved the conclusion and the epilogue so very much. Ms. Chambers more than fulfils her readers’ hopes and dreams for these two.
Much has been said about David and Murdo in earlier reviews and my feelings closely align with those sentiments, so let me simply say that Enlightened is an apt metaphor for the changes that take place in David’s heart – where Ms. Chambers has been leading us all along. The trilogy opens in broad strokes – people, places, events… but by the concluding epilogue, narrows its focus on the tiny details and smaller, intimate moments. In Provoked, David struggles. His first encounter with Murdo is debauched and dirty – much like his feelings about his sexuality. In Beguiled, he knows he’s caught – he’s beguiled – by his feelings for Murdo, right or wrong. He feels powerless to stop wanting him, and like a moth to flame, he can’t resist the pull of his lover, friend and confidant. When Enlightened opens, though he’s happy, the darkness of his future – of life without Murdo – looms large. Enlightenment, when it comes, is a lightness – an acknowledgement that Murdo is his life.
Somehow, Murdo had become more important to him than anything else. Everything he’d worked for- respectability, a shining career, wealth-all of it would be ashes in his mouth if he lost Murdo.
Beautiful Murdo, who’s worn his heart on his sleeve all along (duh David!), who’s been brought to his knees by his love for David, who’s willing to give up all he has to be with David, is magnificent as Enlightened comes to a close.
“To hell with what I deserve,” Murdo whispered. “All I want is you.”
And all I want (if anyone cares), is more of these two.