Lord Ruin by Carolyn Jewel is a far-from-perfect book, but it is so entertaining, satisfying, and sensuous that I simply must recommend it anyway.
The Duke of Cynnsyr, Ruan No-last-name (Or perhaps Ruan is his last name? I’ll get to that in a minute), is an unrepentant, spoiled, egotistical rake. Along with his best friend Devon Carlisle, he’s seduced hundreds of women, and is famous for breaking the hearts of maiden and matron alike. He’s thinking about a dispassionate marriage to a beauty named Emily Sinclair; his friend Devon is deeply in love with Emily’s sister, Anne. Arriving late one night to Devon’s estate during a house party, he goes into his accustomed room and discovers a beautiful woman in his bed. She is Devon’s beloved Anne. She hurt her ankle and has been dosed with laudanum and put in Ruan’s room for the night. Ruan assumes she’s a prostitute, left there as a gift by Devon, who’s done that sort of thing before. This leads exactly where you think it will lead.
There are certain problems with this set-up. The circumstances that bring Anne to Ruan’s bed are ridiculously improbable, as is her drugged willingness to engage in acts that she’s probably never even heard of. Moreover, Ruan’s actions – having sex with a strange woman who is doped very nearly to unconsciousness, even if he does think she’s a prostitute – are abhorrent (though perfectly in keeping with his obnoxious rake characterization). However, as this scene went on I found myself swept away by its sensuality. This is one luscious love scene.
The two are discovered; for the sake of both of their reputations, they must marry. Ruan is sexually captivated by Anne and is surprised that he doesn’t resent the loss of his freedom more. Anne, on the other hand, is genuinely horrified. She is dutiful to Ruan, but she is no doormat. She knows that Ruan has had many women and will probably have many women in the future; she simply finds it impossible to believe that he could ever fall for her. Therefore she will obey him, but she guards her heart. Her very subservience becomes a shield that Ruan finds he cannot break through.
One of the things I enjoyed about this book is that the progress of the relationship between Ruan and Anne is portrayed in the numerous, well-written sex scenes. The early scenes are all about Ruan selfishly taking his pleasure. Later, as he falls deeply in love with Anne, he devotes himself to seducing her, claiming her in bed as he cannot out of it. Anne interprets these seductions as attempts to control her; always submissive, she nevertheless resents them. When Ruan declares his love for her, she simply doesn’t believe him. And always lurking in the background is Devon, Ruan’s best friend, who loves Anne, and whom Anne had hoped to marry.
Unfortunately, this fascinating and sensuous story is marred by some very choppy pacing and awkward writing. Most of the book’s problems are in the craft of storytelling. For instance, on page one, we meet the three good friends: Benjamin Dunbartin, Baron Aldreth; Devon Carlisle, Lord Bracebridge; and the Duke of Cynssyr. No name. Twenty-six pages later, we meet someone named Ruan. I only belatedly realized that Ruan and Cynssyr were the same person, and we never learn Ruan’s last (first?) name at all. It’s really very odd that we should be so clear on everyone’s name and title – except the hero. There are other confusing lapses in storytelling like that one throughout the book. Sometimes I re-read whole sections trying to get a better feel for what was going on. There are a few situations that seem historically unlikely, and occasionally some clunky writing, as when Benjamin describes Anne as “an innocent formerly innocent of men.”
There’s also a suspense subplot that’s just aggravating. Ruan and Devon, and increasingly Anne, are attempting to find out which member of the ton has been kidnapping and abusing young women. There are numerous suspects to keep straight, which is difficult because, in one of her storytelling lapses, the author keeps introducing suspects and victims whose names I’ve never heard before. The solution to this mystery is a complete mess. This isn’t a whodunit; it’s more a who-didn’t-do-it. So many people seem to be involved that I ended up being completely confused.
Against all that, there’s the delicious spectacle of a truly obnoxious womanizer, desperately in love with his wife and unable to convince her of the sincerity of his emotions.
He wanted to bring her back, ask her when she would be home, when he would see her again, all the horrible, clinging, suffocating things women had done to him. He forced himself to stay put. Patience. Patience. And more patience.
I just love that.
If you like a story in which a rake is thoroughly tamed, you should enjoy Lord Ruin. I had some issues with the book’s storytelling, but enjoyed the central romance – and all those sexy love scenes – enough to let it slide.