Untamed is the last in Hope Tarr’s Men of Roxbury trilogy. This series, set in late Victorian England, features friends who grew up in an orphanage and later became successful adults. Each of the books in the series should appeal to readers who are tired of wallpaper historical romances. While this book has some wonderful characters, I found it the weakest of the trilogy.
Patrick O’Rourke (called Rourke, naturally) was arrested for picking pockets when he was a lad. Luckily for him, the pockets belonged to Prime Minister Gladstone, who arranged for Rourke to be sent to the Roxbury Orphanage where he became friends with Harry Stone (whose story is told in Vanquished), Gavin Carmichael, and Daisy Lake (Gavin and Daisy’s story is told in Enslaved). Rourke burned with ambition and as soon as he became of age, he set to work and now is a very, very wealthy man. Having achieved his material goals, Rourke decides it’s time to marry, so he goes to London for the Season to find a blue-blooded woman to marry – love is of no consequence.
Lady Katherine Lindsey is an aristocrat. She is the daughter of the Earl of Romney, but the title is all the family can boast of. The earl is a gamester whose feckless, losing ways have rendered them all but penniless. Kate scrimps and hides the money she earns from the sale of her photographs (she is a Professional Beauty) in order to keep food on the table and her father out of debtor’s prison. Despite her beauty, Kate has a reputation as a bit of a shrew, and she is getting older. Kate knows she can take care of herself, but her little sister Beatrice is another matter. Kate scraped up enough money to launch Beatrice in Society, so they are in London hoping to find Bea a good match with a man who won’t mind her small dowry.
Rourke and Kate meet at a dance and clash immediately. They are both strong willed, and even though she is not his usual type, he can’t help but be drawn to her. They are compromised and Lord Lindsey drags his attention from his cards long enough to insist on a marriage. Kate refuses and arranges a humiliating set down for Rourke. But when her father loses a large sum of money to Rourke, Kate agrees to a marriage since to refuse would compromise her sister. So they are married and set out to Rourke’s home – a crumbling castle in Scotland.
The marriage starts out on a sour note when Rourke takes his cues from a copy of The Taming of the Shrew. This direction in the story didn’t work for me and only served to make him look foolish. Thankfully, he quits playing Petruchio fairly early on and settles down to being himself. Both Kate and Rourke are outwardly confident but inwardly scarred. She has the cachet of her title, but she is intelligent and perceptive enough to realize that the family title is just gilding over base metal. Since her father is so ineffectual, the Lindsey family is on the downslide into poverty. As for Rourke, in England’s class conscious society, his wealth has bought him respect, but he knows that for many men, the respect is grudging. The reason he wants to marry a blue-blooded woman is so his children will not have to contend with the slights he suffered.
Rourke and Kate are the best thing about the book, but I felt like at times, particularly toward the end, they teetered into TSTL territory. They were uneasy at first, which was logical, but when they finally did consummate their marriage and talked long into the night, I thought that they had come to a union of souls as well as bodies. They seemed to understand each other so well, then visitors showed up. One of them was Rourke’s old mistress and even though he treated her with cold courtesy, Kate jumped to the wrong conclusion with blinding speed and Rourke didn’t explain himself very well. I thought their behavior odd given how close they had become.
Tarr’s latest also lacks the local color and sense of place that was so prominent in the previous two books of the series, probably because most of it is set indoors in Scotland instead of London. Kate behaves toward her maid in a way that no Victorian lady would ever behave, and there are a couple of instances where, yet again, a person’s title is given incorrectly. But I guess I should be used to that.
Despite my problems with it, I still think Untamed is one of the better historical romances I’ve read this year. While it lacks the intensity and sensuality that made Vanquished, the first book in the series, such a compelling tale, it is still heads and shoulders above the wallpaper romance I’m reading now.