The Defiant Mistress
Sometimes a love story is so beautifully written that it makes book a pleasure to read; at other times an author draws a setting so vividly and uses secondary characters and plots to create a book that is enjoyable even if the love story has its flaws. The Defiant Mistress, first in the City of Flames trilogy from Claire Thornton, falls into this second category of books. While the love story is distinctly short of perfection, the unusual setting and interesting plotting make it an enjoyable tale.
When she was quite young, Athena Frances Fairchild fled to London to avoid a match with her hated stepbrother. She thought she had succeeded in avoiding him completely until one day he showed up on her doorstep offering a devil’s bargain. Thinking to save the life of the man she loved, Athena agreed to his terms. Not knowing the true circumstances, Athena’s beloved Gabriel saw only her betrayal.
For that reason, when Gabriel Vaughan, Marquis of Halross, sees Athena years later at the Ambassador’s residence in Venice, he is not inclined to think kindly of her. Athena proclaims her innocence to Gabriel, but he is unwilling to believe her since his bitterness and anger at her betrayal are still too close to his heart for him to listen to her clearly. Athena needs passage to England, and Gabriel is the one to take her there, so he decides that a bit of revenge may be in order.
Athena is ashamed to learn that Gabriel sees her as no true lady and she is mortified and angry at the price he intends to exact for her passage to England. She is determined to make him see truth and they argue often. Against her will, Athena finds that she is still attracted to her former betrothed and, even though she is determined not to yield to Gabriel’s demands, she cannot keep her will from weakening on occasion.
There is certainly plenty of fire between Athena and Gabriel. Though the sparks fly, the main flaw in this book is that the conflict takes entirely too long to be resolved. One can certainly understand Gabriel’s anger at what he saw as betrayal by his betrothed. However, Gabriel and Athena find themselves in a cycle of anger, trust, and then seeming betrayal once again at the slightest provocation. It makes sense at first, but toward the end of the book, I found myself wishing the Ambassador would just lock these two in a room and make them talk everything out before leaving for London.
Athena is essentially a sympathetic character. Caught in a dilemma not entirely of her own making, she made the choice that she thought would save Gabriel. She has had a difficult life, one she met with strength and fortitude. It is important to note here, by the way, that when I describe Athena as strong, I do not mean that she has suddenly turned into a 21st century kick-ass heroine, but rather that she has a certain quiet strength about her that one would expect from a woman of her time. She seems to be intelligent, sensible and, while not lacking in temper, is not at all the dreaded “feisty” heroine.
Gabriel, on the other hand, is more difficult to like. Though one can initially understand his anger and, while he does redeem himself by the end, his treatment of Athena is sometimes rather cruel. In addition, he is a little too slow to come around. He has his good moments, but there are times when it is difficult not to wonder at his hardheadedness.
A small portion of the book takes place in London, but for the most part Venice is the star of this story. The city, its history, and traditions all play important parts in this story and give the book a mood that is rather unusual. The secondary characters are not all that complex, but they fit well into the story and help make it a true joy to read. If you are looking for something decidedly out of the ordinary, this novel is worth checking out.