Surrender to Ruin
Carolyn Jewel’s Surrender to Ruin begins with the kind of premise I couldn’t resist. The hero of the story was deeply in love with the heroine’s older sister, who found her HEA in a previous novel with someone else. He’s still in love with her, but now has to marry the heroine. I had to see what happened next.
Emily Sinclair lives with her father, an alcoholic who is gradually selling off everything, from his daughters’ belongings to the daughters themselves. Now he’s lost their house in a gaming hell owned by the Earl of Bracebridge, so he arranges for Emily to be married to a man she despises.
Devon Carlisle, the youngest of seven boys, never expected to inherit a title. You know where this is going, right? I suppose his father and six brothers all being killed in the same carriage accident would have been unrealistic, so they’re wiped out by an illness instead. Bracebridge, a former pugilist, is now titled and rich, but he lost the love of his life, Anne Sinclair, when she married his best friend. So at the start of this story, he’s planning to marry a friend of Emily’s when he discovers Emily’s predicament. On top of that, Mr. Sinclair claims Bracebridge swindled him out of his home, which scuppers Bracebridge’s marriage plans because now his intended’s brother doesn’t want him in the family.
Bracebridge suggests to Emily that they elope. That will protect her and will be a satisfying revenge for him. I usually don’t like hero-revenges-himself-on-a-man-by-cultivating-a-relationship-with-that-man’s-innocent-female-relative plots, but here it works. Bracebridge is honest with Emily, and he offers her marriage, plus Emily is strong enough to deal with him, which he realizes when he discovers the contingency plans she’s made in the event that he abandons her along the way.
I liked Emily as a character. She’s so beautiful she stops clocks, but this isn’t as off-putting as it could be, because people react to her appearance rather than appreciating her personality. And because she’s used to smiling and being cheerful no matter what happens, Bracebridge thinks she’s shallow and frivolous. I also liked the fact that his love for Anne wasn’t negated either by her turning out to be evil or by him realizing he didn’t actually love her. He wanted her so much he had his house decorated in a style that suited her.
But this also meant that he wasn’t in love with Emily. For most of the book, he’s not in love with her until there’s a big dramatic moment and an epiphany at the end (followed by the inevitable baby-logue). And his indifference towards her became steadily unsatisfying, especially given that Emily is in love with him. I kept wondering what she saw in him, other than that she’s madly turned on by his “brutish” good looks and they have a strong sexual connection.
Which brings me to the sex scenes. These are scorching, and at the start, I enjoyed the heck out of them. But as the story wore on, I got tired of the sheer number of such scenes. I wanted something more, some depth of emotion on Bracebridge’s part, maybe. Even near the end, when these two are in bed together, Anne’s name enters the pillow talk. I’m grateful when one woman isn’t put down to make another woman appear good in comparison, but by the end of the story, I want to feel that the hero adores the heroine!
The language is explicit, so expect plenty of fucks and cocks. At first this worked, enhancing the crude, raw physicality of the sex. Plus, it felt true to Bracebridge’s background. But the language continued to be coarse, rather than evolving into anything gentler, and at around the middle of the story, Bracebridge says to Emily :
“You’re my fucking post, aren’t you?”
I… don’t know what that means, unless a fucking post is like a cat’s scratching post? Is it historical slang? I don’t want to Google it and get images that I cannot unsee.
Surrender to Ruin is sure to appeal to fans of Carolyn Jewel, and I wouldn’t hesitate to pick up another of this author’s books. But after a start that was both fascinating and delightful, the hero and heroine settled into a holding pattern that didn’t work for me. With the potential of this story’s premise, it could have done so much better.