Trial by Desire
Trial by Desire is elegantly written. The plot is nice and meaty, the heroine is intelligent and capable and the hero is a tortured soul struggling toward self-knowledge. By all counts I should have loved it, but I ended up only liking it about an average amount.
Lady Kathleen Carhart is beautiful and accomplished. Her husband Edward Carhart is rich, handsome, and well connected – he is the heir to a marquis. By all counts, they should be very happy, but Ned is restless and distant. One evening he tells Kate that they married too young, and he wants to prove himself, both to her and to himself. And so he leaves for China.
Three years later, Kate has carved out a lonely but fulfilling life. She has friends who support her and lately, she has been able to be of assistance to one of them. Laura, Vicountess Beeton, has been beaten by her husband, Alex, and the beatings have gotten worse. Kate has spirited Laura and her son away to a remote cottage where she can be safe, and so far she has been able to keep them away from Alex, who is obsessed with bringing them back.
With all this on her plate, Kate has to contend with Ned who has returned from China. He has changed, seemingly for the better, but the old self-containment and distance is still there. However as time goes by, Ned seems to be opening up and inviting her in. Can Kate trust Ned, especially about Laura, since Alex has the law on his side?
Trial by Desire began well, sagged in the middle, and then sped up to a satisfying end. I liked it well enough, but I felt distanced from the characters all through the book. Even when Ned bared his soul to Kate, telling her why he acted like he did and how he had come to self discovery, I still felt distanced.
To say more about Ned’s problem would be a spoiler, so I’ll just say that even though I applauded his effort toward understanding himself, given the state of medicine during the time this book takes place, he’s not totally cured and can’t be. Milan does suggest that he has enough strength of will to keep the “dragon” as he calls it, at bay.
There were a few things that dragged me out of the story, most notably at the end when Ned had to walk several miles on a broken leg. Sorry – I don’t buy that, I broke my toe several years ago and I could barely walk on that. I didn’t like how Ned and Kate spent practically the entire middle section of the book dancing around each other while not talking about what really kept them apart. The love scenes didn’t convey any sense of closeness between them at all. Frankly, these two remained at such a distance from me, that it was as if I was reading through a fog.
However, there some things about the book I liked very much. Courtney Milan’s writing style is elegant and flowing and her characters mostly act sensibly – they don’t pout, stamp, and indulge in overwrought scenes. Despite their lack of heat as a romantic couple, I liked Ned and Kate very much as characters and I think if Milan can make her couples more connected, she will be a writer to watch.
P.S. I have no idea who designed the cover but it’s ugly. The male model has five o’clock shadow and a supercilious smirk, while the female model is dressed in what looks like a frilly bustier. She looks like she’d rather be taking a nice nap. Worst cover I’ve seen this year.