The Viscount and the Vixen
Caz Owens and Emily Wittmann compare notes on Lorraine Heath’s latest book, The Viscount and the Vixen, the third and final full-length novel in her Hellions of Havisham Hall series.
Love begets madness. Viscount Locksley watched it happen to his father after his cherished wife’s death. But when his sire arranges to marry flame-haired fortune hunter Portia Gadstone, Locke is compelled to take drastic measures to stop the stunning beauty from taking advantage of the marquess. A marriage of mutual pleasure could be convenient, indeed… as long as inconvenient feelings don’t interfere.
Desperation forced Portia to agree to marry a madman. The arrangement will offer the protection she needs. Or so she believes until the marquess’s distractingly handsome son peruses the fine print… and takes his father’s place!
Now the sedate – and, more importantly, secure – union Portia planned has been tossed in favor of one simmering with wicked temptation and potential heartbreak. Because as she begins to fall for her devilishly seductive husband, her dark secrets surface and threaten to ruin them both – unless Locke is willing to risk all and open his heart to love.
Emily and I are both big historical romance fans, and find that our tastes are similar about 90% of the time. She’s a fan of Lorraine Heath – I’m a fan of Lorraine Heath; but our opinions about this latest book – and indeed this whole series – differ greatly. So here we are, to discuss our conflicting reactions to The Viscount and the Vixen, to which I’d award a B+/A-, but which for Emily, only made it to a C+.
Caz: Let’s start with the obvious question. Why the C+?
Em: I liked the set-up and I liked the hero, but I didn’t like the insta-lust between them and all the book real estate spent discussing his sexual prowess and detailing their hot sex life was distracting. I would have liked to have seen a bit more of Portia’s backstory, which is only really revealed quite late on, and didn’t necessarily convince me why she was so willing to abandon her family and everything she knew for the sake of a man.
Caz: I will agree with you that there seemed to be more sex scenes in this book than are normally found in historicals (and in the books of Ms. Heath’s I’ve read) and I did get the feeling that there was a bit of padding going on. BUT, the other story elements – Portia’s situation, Locke’s relationship with his father and the way in which Portia was gradually working her way into both men’s previously regimented lives – grabbed me, and I can forgive much when my interest and emotions are engaged. I’ve said this before, but there is something about Ms.Heath’s themes and her writing that really speak to me, even though I can’t always put my finger on exactly what it is!
Em: You told me that one of the things that pulled you in was the relationship between Locke and Marsden. You didn’t think this version of Marsden was a bit contrary to the way he was presented in the first two books in the series? He was described as a madman in those. Here, he’s a benevolent, slightly quirky old man.
Caz: I thought that Marsden was a bit of both in the other books. He’s believed to be mad by society at large – but remember the scene in Falling into Bed with a Duke when Ashe goes to see him for advice about his problems with numeracy? He – Marsden – was most definitely not mad at that point, so I felt as though the more lucid side of him was foreshadowed there.
Em: I don’t specifically remember that scene – I wish I did! I still liked his character – it was a relief to discover he wasn’t a raving lunatic! But I just didn’t recognize him. In the first book, when the boys get dropped off, he’s a creepy crazy person and his son is basically raising himself, but here he’s a beloved old man – by staff and son alike. I did like this version of him better than the one I imagined previously, and the relationship between him and Locke is one of the best things in the book.
Caz: That scene with Ashe stuck in my mind because I remember thinking something along the lines of “oh – so Marsden’s not completely bonkers, then”. I had the impression of a man who is… unbalanced, in the sense of not quite being all there, but who had moments of lucidity. I also liked the glimpses we got of what he must have been like as a younger man (which is probably fitting seeing as he’s getting his own novella next year!)
Em: And I loved his love for his wife. But again, why all the sex references??!!!
Caz: Heh – I imagine to show that even when lucid, he’s eccentric?
Em: You say eccentric, I say slightly pervy.
Caz: Nah, just reached the point where he doesn’t care :P He says what he likes because he might not be around to say it tomorrow! But I suspect that Marsden was well aware of what he was doing and probably said a lot of things specifically in order to shock.
Em: Okay – so we agree that Marsden works in his role as master manipulator this time out. I liked him and I liked how he got Portia to the estate. The ending was bittersweet. I didn’t think it was as moving as you did though. I was MAYBE rolling my eyes by the end.
Caz: It KILLED me. I know, I know, it was mushy and OTT, but I like mushy and OTT when it’s well done.
Em: So what did you think of the romance and our hero and heroine?
Caz: Once you get past the set-up, which is, let’s face it, a bit of a stretch, I thought Portia and Locke were well-matched, and I liked the way the relationship developed – although I do agree with you in that there was a bit too much of an emphasis on the sex.
Em: I liked Portia right away and agree that she’s a good match for Locke. But I didn’t like how hypersexualized the author made her. I thought Ms. Heath wanted us to believe that her past as a mistress went against her nature but then when she has to turn things on with Locksley, she’s got mad skills in the bedroom. She wanted it both ways and I struggled to go with it.
Caz: Hm. I didn’t quite see it that way – Portia did a dumb thing by believing a man who just wanted to get her into bed, and then by continuing to believe his lies, which is, sadly not an uncommon story. But I never saw it as “going against her nature”, as you put it. I thought she was trying to make the best of a bad situation and then fooling herself until she realised she had to wise up and get out. Even though she is practicing a massive deception – the magnitude of which she only really admits towards the end – she’s a likeable, practical heroine, who wants desperately to do the right thing for her child.
Em: Yes, I loved that about her. Strong. Protective. Angry but moving forward the best she can. Did you guess her secret right away?
Caz: I did, yes – I thought it was fairly obvious and accounted for the fact that she was prepared to marry a much older man.
Em: I didn’t pick up on it. I vaguely remember the reference to a child, but I thought perhaps she had hidden the baby with friends or that the baby was being held somewhere and she needed Marsden/Locke in order to have the muscle/protection to reclaim him/her.
Caz: I wonder if catching that accounts partly for why we feel so differently about the book? I think there was reference to needing to keep the baby “safe” so I had an idea early on that Portia was running from someone. In that context, her willingness to do something underhand fit with her desperation to protect.
Caz: So we liked Portia – what about Locke?
Em: Locke is great. Hot, handsome and knows what he’s doing in the bedroom. Unfortunately, he also feels like he needs to tell us how great he is. Over and over and over and over and over and over…
Caz: See, I knew you were going to say that!
Em: ;) But I love super protective heroes, and he’s definitely that. I think Lorraine Heath really gets the sentimental nature of a strong man – and how reluctant Locke was to seem vulnerable or weak in front of Portia. It was a good plot device to give her insight into the man she was falling for.
Caz: That’s a really good point. And not many authors know how to do that – some seem to think that giving a hero a tragic past is enough to round him out and give him the sort of vulnerability we’re talking about. Nope.
Em: True. And I know I’ve said that all-the-sex all-the-time didn’t work for me, but I thought the chemistry and evolving relationship between Portia and Locke worked. They’re an interesting and intense couple. I just thought the ‘love’ evolved much too quickly.
Caz: Yes, the actual relationship is nicely done. I liked how Portia’s “putting her stamp” on the house is echoed in the way she’s gradually getting under Locke’s skin.
Em: What did you think about the ending/conflict resolution, though? That’s another thing that just didn’t work for me – Portia just forgives Locke for being a complete and total asshole? He was so hard on her and she just forgave him.
Caz: I thought part of that was because she finally admitted to herself that she had – potentially – done a pretty rotten thing given the implications for Locke’s lands and titles. On the one hand, I thought things resolved a bit too easily, but on the other, I’m glad it wasn’t strung out for too long. And I liked that Locke gave Portia the chance to put her side of things and listened to her, which I suspect not many men would have done in that situation. Not that it excuses him – but it’s understandable in context, I think.
So… final thoughts?
Em: Though I didn’t enjoy The Viscount and the Vixen quite as much as you did, Caz, I’m willing to concede it’s entertaining and (mostly) delivers what Ms. Heath’s fans look for in her books – great romance with an intriguing storyline. Unfortunately, some of the character inconsistencies (I’m talking about Marsden and Portia particularly), and the ‘enough already’ sexy times and talk, spoiled my enjoyment of the book as a whole. I’ll still be back for more Heath (I am a fan), but for now, I’m happy to see the last of the Hellions of Havisham.
Caz: Whereas I’m sad to see it end! (Well, we have Marsden’s novella coming next year). The Viscount and the Vixen is another winner from Lorraine Heath, and it delivered exactly the emotional punch I’ve come to expect from her books. The romance is sensual and well-written, there’s some interesting – if heart-breaking – historical detail and the relationship between Locke and Marsden is beautifully done. All the books in this series have earned high ratings from me, and this is no exception.