Passion Wears Pearls
When picking up this book, I was worried about being sucked into an emotionally draining plot with an almost blind hero and a penniless heroine. My reservations fell away within the first couple of chapters to be replaced with warm fuzzies by the end of this well-written Victorian romance.
Josiah Hastings is an artist needing inspiration to capture one last masterpiece before his eyesight fails him completely. He finds his muse in Eleanor Beckett as she is being forced into a man’s carriage on a street corner. He rescues her not only from the man, but also from her employer and landlady, and helps her find respectable living arrangements all in a day. He realizes that the color she has so unexpectedly brought into his life must be captured in paints before his sight succumbs to shadows. Josiah then proposes a business arrangement to Eleanor – a large amount of money in exchange for her modeling for his painting.
Eleanor Beckett was orphaned and, as a result, was reduced to poverty from riches. Her father had wanted her to be a lady in every way, so she strives to be as respectable as possible in her life, her occupation and in her etiquette. When she is kicked out of her job for refusing a male “patron”, she is sure she will end up on the streets. Her morals and her immediate need for financial security clash with Josiah Hastings’ proposal. Practicality wins as she realizes her job prospects without a reference are bleak.
The rest of the book is about their developing relationship as the painting progresses. There is also some action from Josiah’s group of friends, The Jaded, who were imprisoned and escaped from India together with treasure.
What makes this book special are the wonderful characterizations. Josiah is a former rake and dandy who used to be full of pride and talent. He is now realizing that he must let go of life the way he knew it as he turns blind. From counting steps rather than rely on sight, to dozens of candles in a single room to try and compensate for his dark vision; from dealing with pride when stumbling into objects or falling in public, to a quiet sacrifice in love by never declaring his emotions so Eleanor isn’t tied down with taking care of an invalid – what a touching way to take readers on a journey through the psyche of someone experiencing such a paradigm shift. Eleanor, while prissy at times with her proper etiquette, comes across as a lonely woman who is at a crossroads between respectability and financial ruin. How she blossoms in confidence and personality as she interacts with Josiah is commendable writing as well.
Ms. Bernard also has a gift with words for setting up scenes, whether it be the gray of London winter or the sparkle of a dozen candles, or the starkness of an almost blind man’s living quarters. The love scenes are hot, with some candles and risqué wax play included. That is after the awkward kissing scene though, one which didn’t seem natural when she asks for a kiss, and he takes his time cleaning up before approaching her for it.
While there are a handful of secondary characters for brief passages, Josiah’s housekeeping couple were my favourites. I can still hear Mr. Escher’s bones cracking as he goes up and down the long flight of stairs, and Rita’s gruff, motherly concerns.
I had not read any of the earlier Jaded Gentleman books before reading this one. I was confused for maybe a few paragraphs as the group convenes to discuss more about the villain, a subplot that has presumably been running throughout the series and will be solved in the last one. It didn’t pull me out of the book or significantly disrupt the flow of the story, so I’d say this book can be read as a standalone.
Overall, I definitely recommend this book. Yes, I cried, living up to my original expectation of an emotional plot. But I cried because I was touched and happy in the end.