This is not an easy romance. Both the hero and heroine are rather unlikeable, almost to the point where you don’t believe they deserve a happy ending. And yet, this book was really, really good. It’s a hard book to recommend, but if anything about this review appeals to you, then you should definitely give it a try. It is the fourth and final book in the No Better Angels series, and while the hero has appeared in every other book of the series I do not think you need to have read the others to appreciate this one. Be forewarned – I abuse capital letters a lot in this review. 🙂
Sabine Banchory is a very rigid young woman in a loveless, arranged marriage to a mean and spiteful man. She is the daughter of a duke, and her uncle who now holds the title arranged this marriage for money and under the belief that Sabine would help her husband manage his life and properties. And that is basically her entire existence now. She is the one who manages the properties while having to follow her husband whom she hates around to social occasions she cannot stand. She holds herself aloof from the people she meets, and a lot of that seems to stem from a sense of intellectual superiority. At a house party she is confronted by Alfie, the Earl of Kingston, a man who appears to take nothing seriously, and who spends his days seducing women. Alfie is intrigued by Sabine, especially when she seems immune to his charm, and decides to pursue her.
I don’t want to say much more about the plot – it is both wild and totally believable for these characters. Mayhem, murder, breakneck races through the countryside, escape to the Continent, hot air balloon rides – this book has it all. Alfie is running from a broken heart in a really stupid way. Sabine fights her guilt (not about what you might suspect) in really surprising ways. Two people who at first seem like polar opposites find solace in each other. The romance part is a little quieter than some other books, but it’s incredibly heartfelt.
In the great tradition of romance novel series, Satie has saved the ‘worst’ for last. Authors seem to build up one man of a group as the Big Bad Man over a series – the toughest of all hearts to crack. Alfie is definitely that man. He has appeared in each of the other books as a sideline character that is not on anyone’s team but his own, and can usually be found getting in the way of the main characters’ happily ever after. While many romance heroes are painted as the rake (so that they may fulfill the trope of the Reformed Rake), never have I come across a book where I thought it was as realistically depicted as this one. Alfie is the real deal, and has sex with a lot of society women. AND THERE ARE CONSEQUENCES. (Some of his liaisons happen in the book and are really unattractive, so if that’s a problem for you, be forewarned that he is with women other than the heroine. AND, they are not just with “dancers, actresses, and Respectable Widows”™, which is how I think authors usually try to play it off as not really that bad of behavior). In the Reformed Rake trope the hero is painted as some Bad Boy that the heroine needs to stay away from because there might be consequences from their association, but typically no consequences ever appear. Here, Alfie is a bit of a social outcast (certainly with his male peers), but as usual, the women he associates with are the ones who really bear the brunt of the fallout. I just wanted to scream with happiness (even though it was overall very sad) because I was so thrilled to see real life consequences show up for bad choices. Sabine is much more complacently accepting of Alfie’s past and the undeniable fact that she is going to run in to his past lovers at parties than I was comfortable with. But, I suppose she would have to be for them to be together.
One warning: This is not the first time that gore has turned up in a romance I was reading, but it is certainly something I try to avoid, so it was an unpleasant surprise. The other books in this series all have mysteries in them, but not gore (if I remember correctly). This one has gore and no mystery. It’s brief, but it is gruesome and has stuck with me.
The final chapter or two has all of the past couples making an appearance and was clearly to wrap up the series in a nice, neat bow. It was a little too tidy for my preferences, especially when so much of the series dealt with really uncomfortable issues. Though good news for many readers! – only one family has a baby at the end.
I feel like I could have written twice as much about this book. There is a lot to unpack here, and it is all very interesting. I enjoyed this whole series of books and look forward to whatever Erin Satie puts out next.