The Ruthless Charmer
When I first heard the title The Ruthless Charmer, I envisioned an amusing regency-set historical about a witty hero determined to use his charisma selfishly. To put it mildly, this is not the case for this book. Far from being a diverting, roguish Cary Grand-like hero, the title character of Julia London’s new book is more of a miserable (albeit irresistible) James Dean. While The Ruthless Charmer does have its moments, you’ve got to be willing to take a hero who is so torn up by his own pain that he has no understanding of the feelings of others and a lack of emotional communication that lasts to the penultimate chapter.
As the story opens Julian Dane, the Earl of Kettering is blaming himself for the death of his good friend Phillip in a drunken duel. At Phillip’s funeral he reflects on all of the things that torment him. There are quite a few:
“He knew what it was like to love a father so much that he would swear to almost anything as the throes of death descended. He knew what it was like to love a sister like his own child and have his life wrenched clean from his body as she lay dying in his arms. And God help him he knew what it was like to love a man like a brother and watch helplessly as he spiraled downward into the clutches of madness and suicide.”
In addition to all of this, Julian has another reason for guilt. He’s hopelessly in love with Philip’s beautiful fiancée, Claudia, a woman whom he has known since childhood. Julian believes that Claudia blames him for Phillip’s dissipation. This is actually true. What Julian doesn’t know, is that in spite of this, Claudia loves him. She has always loved him and greatly preferred him to Phillip. She’s as angry with him for not choosing her as she is for his behavior with Phillip.
Claudia is a bluestocking of the first rank. Many romances feature women who flirt with being feminists (or the early 19th century equivalent) but become less committed when they fall in love. Claudia is the real thing and her passion is giving women a chance. She funds a kind of secret battered women’s shelter and dreams of a school for girls. In spite of this high mindedness, Claudia is helpless when it comes to Julian. When he seduces her one night in a secluded room at a party, she is compromised and they are forced to marry.
Claudia and Julian are madly in love but neither of them knows that the other one cares. This is standard marriage of convenience fare and initially works just fine. There is wonderful chemistry between these two and the love scenes are very hot. Furthermore, the way that Julian thinks of Claudia is incredibly romantic. This man is so in love he cannot go an hour without thinking of his wife and when he thinks of her he can barely control himself. He is besotted, sexually obsessed and incredibly tortured. (Gulp)
But as the book continues, Julian and Claudia’s unwillingness to fess up about their feelings wears very thin. At first Julian tries to make Claudia accept the marriage and fall in love with him, but she is afraid that if she gives in she will be hurt and so remains emotionally distant. Then the two have a disagreement over Sophie, Julian’s sister because of their unwillingness and inability to trust each other. Then Julian decides that he doesn’t want Claudia. By this time, of course, she has changed her mind. Nobody believes that anybody loves anybody and as a reader I just wanted these two to get in a room alone and have a reasonably frank coversation.
Claudia and Julian are intelligent characters, but by the end of The Ruthless Charmer, it was hard to believe that they would have much chance for happiness. These two people, who have known each other for most of their lives, cannot read each other at all. Though the end of this story is predictably happy, I wondered what was going to happen the first time these two had a disagreement. Given the way they acted toward each other, talking about the problem seemed unlikely.
Though this book has problems, readers who love really tortured heroes may very well enjoy it. This is my first Julia London book and though it had problems, the writing style and the period feeling were very enjoyable. I intend to look for her books in the future.