Reading Obsession I remembered why I gave up watching soap operas; they’re too frustrating. Speaking of frustration, I don’t know how anyone who read its prequel, Devotion, with its mother of all cliff hanger endings, handled it without giving up on Sutcliffe altogether. Unfortunately I’m not sure this is the book you all were waiting for. Well maybe if you like long separations, the Mt. Everest of big misunderstandings, historical inaccuracies and a hero and heroine who have barely half a conversation (let alone show the reader why they belong together), then this might be to your liking. Yet oddly enough, I found I couldn’t put this train wreck down. Even though I was shaking my head as the story got more and more outrageous I couldn’t stop turning pages.
The story opens in approximately 1808 (I say approximately because it’s never clearly stated, and I made an assumption based on the fact 1805 is given as the date in Devotion), at the wedding of Trey Hawthorne, the Duke of Salterdon. After three years of searching and running through his fortune Trey has given up on a life with Maria Ashton and decided to marry for money. But when those assembled are asked if anyone knows just cause why the marriage should not happen, a woman comes forward with a horrible tale. Maria never left Trey; she was taken by his grandmother and thrown in a mental asylum.
Trey abandons his pregnant bride, Edwina, at the altar and rushes to Maria. Unfortunately three years in hell caused her to retreat into herself. She’s suicidal – and she talks to her dead brother. Trey tries desperately to reach Maria, to help her as she helped him all those years ago. Unfortunately, Trey’s grandmother, the dowager duchess, did more than just throw Maria in asylum, she committed a terrible act. In order to win back Maria and set things right, Trey may have to sacrifice his dukedom and everything he considered important. Is Maria worth the sacrifice, or is far kinder to let her go?
The story is told mostly from the first person point of view, as narrated by Trey. Sutcliffe doesn’t do a bad job of this, except that Trey doesn’t really have a “man’s” voice. It’s something subtle; I just never bought that this was a man’s point of view. As far as heroes go, Trey is a pretty flawed individual. He tries, and that’s something, but more often than not he’s impatient and lets his emotions run away with him, hurting those around him as he wallows in self pity. Though I couldn’t say I really disliked Trey – I just wanted to give him a good swift kick in the derriere and tell him to move on.
As for Maria, she’s a major drawback to the story. I didn’t warm to her in Devotion and here she has even less presence. For over half the book she’s insane, and when she finally does come around she listens to people she knows she cannot trust. She has reasons to dislike Trey, strong ones, so her fall back into his arms seemed totally unbelievable.
There are two villains here. One is the woman Trey left at the altar, Edwina, who’s motivation is love and desperation. Pregnant with another man’s child, she needs a husband and Trey’s her choice. Then there’s his grandmother, the dowager duchess. As a villain she’s fine, though she’s off stage ninety-five percent of the story, and her actions late in the book come out of the blue.
The book’s main flaw, though, is that a really good conversation would’ve cured a lot of ills; instead of talking we get yelling and accusations. Frustration built as people lied or kept things to themselves. For every step forward Trey had, he took twelve back, while Maria was never a fully realized character, which really hindered their relationship. I just couldn’t buy it.
For those looking for a good historical, this isn’t it. It opens with a huge historical implausibility: Edwina is a three-time divorcee. Since it took an act of Parliament, I don’t think Edwina could afford this three times, or would be able to find another husband (let alone four other husbands) after the first divorce. Also, I highly doubt a peer of the realm would work in a lead mine as Trey does, no matter how desperate he was to martyr himself for his sins. Even if he wanted to, people wouldn’t let him. Since no date is given in Obsession it reads like an alternate reality Regency England.
Yet, for all my complaints, on some level I enjoyed Obession. Sutcliffe is a solid story teller, who sucks the reader in with voice, pace, and prose. As frustrating as this story was, I couldn’t put it down, and anyone who’s read Devotion is definitely going to want to see how it all turned out. By the way, if you haven’t read Devotion steer clear, because this story does not stand on its own at all.