a Retro Review
originally published on October 25, 2011
Music has never really been my thing. I enjoy listening to it, but don’t have the true appreciation of it that some have. Grace Burrowes, the author of The Virtuoso, is one of those people who really understands the emotions, depth, and meaning of music, and she conveys it beautifully through the hero.
Valentine Windham, youngest of five sons of a duke, has pinned his whole existence and identity upon his considerable talent on the piano. But when he loses two of his older brothers in quick succession, his hand begins to ache, to the point of total inability to play. He is out of sorts and lost, despairing of ever being able to play again, when he wins a small, rundown country estate. It is here that he re-meets Ellen FitzEngle, a young widow who lives in a cottage on his property. Their attraction is strong, and they soon become closer as they work together to rebuild the estate. However, Ellen has a number of secrets and pain, and Val must discover his own worth when his musical talent is at risk.
While the book ostensibly focuses on Val (after all, the title refers directly to him), Ellen has her own depth and development as well. She is living a life incognito, going by her maiden name rather than her true title, the Baroness Roxbury. She loved her husband in a distant way, and after five years of solitude as the local widow, finds Val’s company to both be a balm and also to reignite the guilt and loneliness she has felt all these years. They are well matched, Val and Ellen. There is chemistry, but their connection goes much beyond that, and their intimacy is far more than sexual. I really enjoyed the emphasis the author placed on the joy that is mere contact, not just constant sex (although there is a fair amount of that too).
The writing in this book was a joy to read. The author has a wonderful command of language, and has a talent for creating interesting and unusual turns of phrase. She also is able to convey Val’s connection with music in a way that I was able to understand and appreciate on a level that I had never before.
I did have a small quibble with the plot structure, however. There was a backstory that seemed unnecessary. The prior connection between Val and Ellen didn’t make a lot of sense, and wasn’t developed fully. The actual meeting may have been relevant in a previous novel, though; there are several characters that appear to be protagonists of the author’s earlier work, but as I had not read the other novels any prior character development was lost on me.
Even so, I had a really hard time putting The Virtuoso down. It was a refreshing change from the usual fare of rakes and titled society men. There is a depth and sincerity and insecurity to Val that is lacking in many other romance heroes that I really appreciated. Even those who aren’t crazy about music can feel the emotion and connection, but I’m sure musicians and other aficionados would enjoy this book even more.