Lord Sin is a captivating Victorian tale of a jaded gentleman and a vicar’s daughter. As with two of the other Catherine Archer books I have read and enjoyed (Velvet Bond being my favorite Medieval), enjoyment in this book is found in the strongly-written characterizations of the hero and heroine. Readers who like a bit more meat will be satisfied as well, as the author has added a gothic element to her tale. In addition to the psychic transformation of the hero we have come to expect, there is also loneliness, isolation, and danger.
As our story opens, Mary Fulton is walking to decide her future amidst the heather and roses of the English countryside. has recently lost her father, and rather than impose upon her recently married best friend Lady Victoria, she decides to find a governess’ position on her own. At that moment, she is nearly run over by a dark and handsome stranger astride a galloping stallion.
The handsome stranger is none other than Lord Ian Sinclair, known throughout England as the infamous rake Lord Sin. Both are drawn to each other, although Ian promises Lady Victoria he won’t trifle with Mary. But her allure is too great, and besides, he could really get back at his father by marrying someone so clearly unsuitable as the outspoken, educated and beautiful commoner.
This is the premise for Lord Sin, and the reader will be drawn to Ian and Mary’s tale as quickly as they were drawn to one another. The author creates the same heightened sense of intimacy with her characters as she has with previous works such as Velvet Bond and Velvet Touch. In particular, Ian’s use of Mary’s name when he addresses her brings the reader into close contact with both characters.
And what characters they are! Mary is something of a paragon – beautiful, intellectual, selfless, not afraid to confront her fears, but also, seemingly unable to broach Ian’s closed-off heart. And Ian, well, I liked him … a lot. He really tries to do the right thing where Mary is concerned, even if the right thing is exactly the wrong thing to do.
He doesn’t behave as the typically tortured hero often does; he is not brutal. But he has locked off his heart and believes he is not worthy of Mary. His plan is to keep his distance until he makes himself a better person. The ironic thing is that he is not really bad. Mary manages to bring out the good in him fairly easily, as evidenced by his warped logic, although neither seem easily willing to accept that he is capable of goodness.
Mary’s works her wiles on Ian and Ian’s father, who, little by little, allows Mary to bring lightness into his dark estate. But the trust that develops between Mary and her father-in-law, servants at the estate, and the local villagers does not come easily to Mary and Ian.
Again, the author’s ability to create intimacy, to bring the reader into the lead characters’ minds and hearts is such that, even though Mary and Ian do and say things that are frustrating to read, they make sense given the characters’ world views. I caught myself time and time again thinking, “Why in the world would she say that? Why would he do that?”, only to think a moment later, “Well, of course, given that such-and-such, that makes perfect sense!”
Mary and Ian inch slowly and slowly toward trust and love, thwarted by the small misunderstandings their lack of communication creates. There is danger for Mary; someone wants her dead and will go to great lengths to achieve their goal. This, added to the coldness from Mary’s father-in-law, Ian’s cousin Barbara, and Ian himself, create the gothic flavor of Lord Sin.
At every level, Mary and Ian’s relationship grows like the beautiful roses Ian has thoughtfully transplanted from Mary’s mother’s garden to their own estate. By the end of this wonderfully rendered portrait of love, the reader will be touched. Although Mary’s goodness and ability to forgive will seem a bit extreme by the end, the transformation of Ian is worth it. And, the melodramatic climax of the gothic premise, which includes a scene reminiscent of the damsel-in-distress-going-into-the-dark-and-scary-basement-without-turning-on-the-lights, can almost be forgiven because even paragons make mistakes.