Surrender To A Stranger
Grade : A-

The French Revolution was, arguably, one of the most frightening national tragedies in history. Its excesses and corruption shocked contemporary observers around the world, including those who initially applauded the spirit of the Revolution. Surrender to a Stranger is the riveting story of a man who makes it his business to free victims of the Revolution. It is also the story of a young female French aristocrat who learns that there is truth in the idea of the equality of man, however heinous the actions of some of its supporters.

At the start of the book, Jacqueline Marie Louise Doucette, daughter of the recently executed Duc de Lambert, is startled, on the night before her execution, when a mysterious old man rescues her from her filthy prison cell. Soon she discovers that he is no old man, but a daring master of disguises. He carries out a clever scheme which gets them out of Paris and into to England. This is no easy task, not only because the French police are after them, but because Jacqueline is obstinately determined to remain in France to kill the man responsible for her imprisonment.

As Jacqueline and the mysterious hero travel together, a friendship forms despite Jacqueline’s initial ungrateful attitude. Author Monk eschews many of the cliched hints that we read in novel after romance novel. The hero might be attracted to Jacqueline but he doesn’t show it for a long time. There are no hints of “a tightening in his groin,” or unsettling looks that pass between them. This straightforward style is refreshing and allows the mutual attraction between them to manifest itself slowly.

Armand (he finally reveals his name) delivers Jacqueline to the home of Sir Edward Harrington, an old friend of her father. There, she joins her two sisters whom she had earlier sent to safety. Though she is safe, she is miserable. Her father and her beloved brother are dead. Jacqueline knows that their deaths are the work of Nicholas Bourdon, an evil man who became embittered when her father refused his offer for her hand in marriage. Jacqueline is determined to someday return to France and kill Nicholas.

Return she does, though I won’t say how. To describe this story step-by-step would be a disservice. A large part of the excitement is following Armand and Jacqueline on their daring adventures. Karyn Monk has a wonderful eye for detail, which adds greatly to this story. We get to see the streets of Paris, the street urchins, the mobs and the shabby aristocrats imprisoned in an overcrowded palace. The schemes and escapes are ingenious and fascinating to watch even though we know the outcome.

Armand St. James is a compelling man. The shameful details of his past life make his reluctance to marry Jacqueline both understandable and heartbreaking. Armand is that rarest of romance heroes – a commoner. Not only does Armand not have a title; he is the son of a plain but wealthy businessman. Indeed this is part of the point. The journey that Jacqueline travels is one in which she discovers the worth of a common man. Happily, Monk does not spoil this by giving Armand a trumped up title in the final chapter.

Jacqueline’s character grows considerably. Early in the story, Armand finds her constant rants against the “rabble” infuriating and we don’t blame him. Jacqueline knows nothing of the suffering of the poor or the worth of people without aristocratic titles. As the story progresses, Jacqueline learns to judge people on their merits. It’s a joy to read.

Jacqueline’s love for Armand, and her need for him to marry her, provide one of the most heartbreaking sequences in the book. Armand is doing important work. We cannot argue with that. And yet when he pulls away from Jacqueline, we bleed for her. We know what her love has cost her and that Jacqueline’s love for Armand is an indication that she has become a better person.

A minor quibble is that this book may be a bit too long. Some readers will find the story overly-protracted. For me, the book was such a treat that I was glad for the extra pages. This is my first Karyn Monk book. She’s a find. I’m still walking around with the last words from A Tale of Two Cities ringing in my head. “‘Tis a far, far better thing I do”

Reviewed by Robin Uncapher

Grade: A-

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : January 30, 2000

Publication Date: 2000

Recent Comments …

  1. I’ve not read The Burnout, but I’ve read other Sophie Kinsella’s books and they are usually hilarious rather than angsty…

Robin Uncapher

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