The Duke's Captive
I’ve heard much of Adele Ashworth, but nothing I’ve read has overly impressed me, and I was about ready to give up. However, I’m glad I asked for The Duke’s Captive and, although it isn’t perfect, I can say that I finally understand the fuss.
In The Notorious Proposition, Ian Wentworth was taken hostage by three sisters, imprisoned, drugged, and starved for five weeks. Five years later he is the Duke of Chatwin and two of the sisters have received justice. But the third one roams free, and he burns to take his revenge on her. For five years he has kept tabs on Viola Bennington-Jones, beginning with her marriage to Baron Cheshire and the birth of her son, followed by her early widowhood. When he receives word that she is finally out of mourning, Ian takes the first steps to ruin her.
For years Viola has purposely remained in town, knowing Ian stayed in the country, and she quietly paints portraits for the ton during her mourning period. So when her mourning ends and Viola meets Ian at a ball, she is astounded. She braces herself for scandal, but to her immense surprise he claims no prior acquaintance with her, instead hiring her to paint his portrait and demonstrating an immense attraction towards her. The feeling is entirely mutual, but Viola has secrets to hide and cannot trust the apparent simplicity of his behaviour.
And she shouldn’t, naturally. At the beginning, Ian’s cold and methodical plot feels disproportionate to the crime committed against him; he appears warped and unreasonable. This is due almost entirely to an assumption that readers are familiar with events five years ago, and can extrapolate Viola’s and Ian’s current behaviour from the past. Since I haven’t read the previous book, things were rather muddled for a while.
Happily, this disappears quickly enough for a solid recommendation. Viola cottons on to Ian’s plot in timely fashion, and the rest of the book tells a lovely romance. I can still spot some of the things that bothered me in previous books – why does everyone smirk all the time? – and there is no question that Viola and Ian’s story is moving and sincere. Viola’s characterization strikes a realistic chord, her motivations are rooted firmly in the Victorian era, and her reasons for keeping secrets are justified. Together they form a slightly larger-than-life love story, aided by polished prose and insights.
I’ve not read Winter Garden, and I know I have to. But I’m also happy to know that besides having a solid backlist to peruse, I can look forward to Ms. Ashworth’s books in the future.