Sunday, January 11, 2009

Review: After the Kiss by Suzanne Enoch

Title: After the Kiss
Series: Notorious Gentlemen
Author: Suzanne Enoch
Read copy: Mass Market Paperback
Published: June 24, 2008
Publisher: Avon
ISBN: 0060843098
ISBN-13: 9780060843090

A Notorious Gentleman . . .

Sullivan Waring wants only two things: his rightful inheritance, and revenge against the man who stole it from him. By day, Sullivan is the most respected horse breeder in England; by night, he plunders the "ton"'s most opulent homes to reclaim his late mother's beautiful paintings. His quest is going swimmingly . . . until the night he's discovered by Lady Isabel Chalsey. Clad only in a revealing nightdress, she's an entrancingly different kind of plunder, and how can a thief resist stealing a kiss?

A Curious Lady . . .

Surprised by a masked man in her own home, Isabel should be quaking with fear. Instead the sight of the sinfully handsome Sullivan makes her tremble with excitement. Who is this man, and why is he so set on this reckless pursuit? Lady Isabel loves a challenge, and she'll dare anything to uncover Sullivan's secret--but she may instead convince him that she is the greatest prize of all.

My rating:

Sullivan Warring, a by-blow of a nobleman without par in the Society, is intent on revenge. His mother died while he was at war against the French in Spain and upon his return his father (who never acknowledged him) has stolen his inheritance – his mother's paintings. Sullivan is adamant at getting those paintings back and embarrassing his lordly father in the process.

So, in broad daylight he's the most respected and sought-after horse breeder in England, while at night he visits his father's friends' homes, stealing the paintings back. He has only four left to go, when the lady of the house he's currently robbing stumbled upon him. To prevent her from alerting the household, he silences her with a kiss...But the lady isn't idle, either, and rids him of his mask in the process.

Lady Isabel Chalsey comes face to face with the infamous Mayfair Marauder the very next day, accompanying her brother to a horse auction. Instead of turning him in, she concocts a crazy scheme. In order to learn why he is robbing the residents of Mayfair and to keep an eye on him, preventing him from further mischief, she buys a horse – despite her debilitating fear of the animals – and employs Sullivan as trainer.

It took me quite a while to get into this book. Mostly because of Isabel's character in the first few chapters. As most Society belles she was spoiled and firmly ensconced in her narrow little world, but it was her bossy manner and dramaqueenesque manner that really put me off. Only when, in the course of the story, she finally grew up and had her eyes (forcibly) open to the pettiness and fickleness of polite society, I started really enjoying the whole deal.
It's almost unheard of for a romance heroine to go through such a drastic change in personality and perspective as Isabel did in this book, but still the author never made her appear inconsistent. Whatever she did or said was always perfectly in tune with the mind frame Isabel was in at the moment.

Sullivan, like Isabel, also went through a great change in the process of the story, and his development was completely tied in with Isabel's change. It was by looking at her, processing her own change, that he realized not all members of the Society were alike, and his bitter quest for revenge against the aristocracy slowly and irrevocably morphed into desire to (at least) try to understand the aristocracy and forget his anger and betrayal for her, to make her happy and him worthy of her admiration and love.
They were both acutely aware of their differences and possible consequences of the clandestine affair, yet still persisted in their quest for happiness (kudos to Isabel in this instance).

I loved the entire premise of the book. Ms. Enoch paired two characters from completely different backgrounds. While Isabel was the darling of the Society, Sullivan, thanks to his lucrative business merely brushed against its outskirts. The pairing of a haughty, aristocratic woman with an aristocratic by-blow was this story lifesaver, if you ask me.
And the development of their romance (which was again an organic in growing affair) and their secret courtship was a real joy to read. It slowly built from initial attraction between "enemies", to a grudging trust, to friendship, and finally to passion and love.

Unlike many of her fellow author, Ms. Enoch didn't forget about the secondary characters. They weren't just figures creating a backdrop for the leading couple, but had a life of their own. Some bad, some good, some shady and in between, but still real and believable, making the reader want to read their stories as well.

So if you like your romance to have a pinch of realism, wonderfully developed and multidimensional characters, and some great depths, this is the book for you.


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