Desert Isle Keeper
A Blast from the Past review
originally published on August 18, 2010
There are books I rather like and then, every once in a great while, there are books I love to the point of wanting everybody I know to go out and buy a copy. Libertine’s Kiss is one of those rare books. This angsty historical is heartrendingly beautiful, featuring beautiful language and a fantastic setting with a smart heroine and a deeply tortured, flawed hero who turns out wonderfully.
The story opens as Cromwell still holds power in England. An injuried Royalist comes to a young Puritan widow’s door, and she gives him shelter even as she recognizes him as the man who killed her father during the English Civil War. Though she knows his identity right away, the injured man doesn’t recognize her. We learn early on not only of this man’s war history, but also that he was the widowed Elizabeth Walters’ beloved childhood friend, William de Vere. The two lived on neighboring properties and spent a magical summer exploring together. Sadly, William’s family sent him away to school, the two families took opposite sides during the war, and they never saw each other again until the night William showed up at Elizabeth’s door. That night, they make love in a poignantly written scene, and then William must flee the authorities.
After Cromwell’s death, Charles II is restored to the throne and William now holds an honored place in his court. Elizabeth has not fared so well. Upon learning that she sheltered a Royalist, Cromwell stripped her of her lands and she lives in poverty. Her path crosses William’s again when she goes to court to petition for return of her lands. The naive Lizzy is not at all prepared for what she finds in Charles’ court, and the courtiers mock her openly. The scene in which William comes to her rescue is one of many great scenes in the book. Having survived a miserable early life, the embittered William writes satirical poetry and several scenes in the book, including this one, show him employing it to great effect.
From this point on, we see William establishing Lizzy at court as she tries to get her lands restored to her. In addition, we also get to experience the wonderful treat of the grown-up Lizzy and William getting to know one another and falling in love all over again. It’s a beautiful, bittersweet tale and there are quite a few moments in this book that will make readers both smile and tear up – and sometimes do both of these things at once. The dialogue in this story flows beautifully, and the characters share many layers of emotion in their conversations – with snippets of William’s poetry as icing on the cake. On top of all that, Judith James can really write a good hot love scene. Not only do Lizzy and William share passionate moments, but the author writes a great deal of emotion into their lovemaking and really conveys the complexity and intensity of their emotions to the reader.
The leads in this book do not have an easy story, and the author wisely lets readers live inside their struggles rather than spoon feeding it in emotionless info dumps. Though both hero and heroine have had difficult lives, Lizzy holds on to hope and to her belief in the ideals she and William spoke of as children. William, on the other hand, lives up to the definition of a cynic as broken-hearted idealist. He drinks too much in order to numb himself and has slept with numerous women, though he refuses to engage in serious relationships. He is open about this with Lizzy, and does not even pretend to be one of those sweet, magical rakes who immediately throws aside his wicked ways after being entranced by his first glimpse of the heroine. One would never call William harmless, but in his treatment of Lizzy, he does by the end live up to the title of hero.
In addition to having wonderful lead characters, their story unfolds inside a magical world. Judith James juggles poetry, Restoration court culture, and fairytale references with an almost perfect sense of timing, and the result is a world that springs vividly to life. Rather than simplifying the many complex historical details of the day, the author weaves their many threads into her story, letting readers see her world in its many layers of light and dark just as her characters would have. The result is a story that is sweeping and epic.
Filled with intelligent dialogue and set within a wonderfully conceived world, Libertine’s Kiss is one of those books I wish I could buy in bulk so that I can push it to everyone I know. The writing is beautiful, and the story compelling. I find myself wanting to compare it to something, but there is really nothing out there quite like this. Judith James has a unique voice, and it’s one that I hope to see in print for many years to come.