The Darkest Sin
As I begin writing, the jury is still out regarding The Darkest Sin. I don’t know whether to despise the hero and heroine, or not. It’s hard to decide whether to revile their actions or perhaps understand some of them. Was I in the mood to be entertained, thus forgiving of a lot of issues, or is this book a hot mess?
As the book opens, it’s been a year since Rowena Wollcott was kidnapped, abused, dumped in a river to drown and rescued by a stranger. The kidnappers made it pretty clear before they dumped her that the rest of her family was in danger also, so Rowena has been masquerading as a governess, letting her family believe she is dead. This situation might have lasted forever if she hadn’t read about the exploits of Lord James Rushford.
Rushford is the patriotic hero/spy who has lived his life in service to his country, getting into and out of deadly situations unscathed, until he’s called upon to guard the Rosetta Stone. In that situation he was betrayed and his mistress was murdered, which sent him back to England burning for revenge and much less sure of his immortality. His recent activities include investigating and solving the murders of prostitutes at a famous bordello, which were reported in the newspaper and read by Rowena.
Deciding that Rushford is just the man to save her family, Rowena conceives a plan and breaks into Rushford’s house to speak with him about it. Recognizing Rowena immediately as the girl he pulled from the river a year ago, and fully aware of the danger to her family, Rushford says only that, basically, Rowena’s plan is nuts and dangerous and she should go back to governessing. Rowena thinks her plan to masquerade as Rushford’s mistress is inspired, so she dresses like a whore and confronts him at a hell, announcing to all and sundry that she’s his mistress. Rushford feels compelled to go along with her scheme after that and the two join forces against the villain who killed Rushford’s mistress and is endangering Rowena’s sister and aunt.
The book opens with a prologue that really gives one the creeps. In it a woman is semi-conscious with ugly images drifting through her mind. She’s cold and ill so our hero climbs into bed with her naked and Has Sex With Her! If you can call that sex and not rape. Yuck. The reader finds out later that this happened while the heroine was recovering from her ordeal, and that she was apparently saying “I want you, I want you”, but still. Yuck. I’m just sayin’.
I’m leaning toward despising the heroine. It never made sense to me that Rowena would let her family believe she was dead, making no attempt to contact them for an entire year. Sure, she couldn’t go strolling back home if her manor was being watched, but there was no way to send a letter or message? And yes, she has mad skills, climbing, riding and shooting being no problem for her, but does that mean she knows best all the time? I found her very arrogant and controlling. Unfortunately, she’s quite often right. Her scheme does work, and she is needed in some of the situations where the hero insists she isn’t. But on the other hand, some of the villain’s minions get to beat the hero bloody because she doesn’t feel like sharing something she learns.
The hero is just as bad about sharing. When Rowena first approaches him with her idea about how to find the man threatening her family, he doesn’t admit to her that he is the one who pulled her from the river. He also (inexplicably) doesn’t share news with her about her sister and aunt, some of which would have relieved Rowena’s worry considerably. And why, when he’s so much more experienced, worldly and old compared to Rowena, does Rushford allow her to bully him so badly?
On a side note, Rushford apparently has four arms. At one point, during one of the (lackluster) love scenes, Rowena’s on top, holding his hands. But he’s also caressing her girly bits with his hands at the same time. That would be OK, since you’d assume she let him go and it wasn’t mentioned, but then in the next sentence she’s holding his hands still. Okay…
I started this book a dozen times and became disgusted each time and put it down again. When I finally read it through, I thought that maybe it wasn’t so bad as I first believed. Now, reviewing it, I’ve decided I was in a forgiving mood. I think The Darkest Sin is a less successful derivative of other period mysteries which feature a hero named Sebastian. Strong characters in the other series are translated here into manipulative people with personality disorders. The hero and heroine are not very likable people and invest a lot of time in arguing, so the romance is unbelievable. The mystery falls flat while the reader is offered little tidbits of information, none of it earth-shattering, with loose ends dangling everywhere, and then there’s a big build up – to an obvious set-up for a third book.
All votes are in. And in the case of The Darkest Sin the verdict is Hot Mess.