Okay, is there a legit reason why Cecilia Grant has stopped publishing romance novels? Because I read a lot of them, and both of the books I’ve read by her so far stand apart. It’s a little hard to explain, but her voice is so unique in the genre. 2013 is now five years ago (gross), and that is when she published her last book, so it is high time*.
So, like with A Lady Awakened, the first book in this series, Grant takes a common romance novel trope and does her thing with it. Her thing is hard to explain, but it basically involves taking a trope, teasing you with it, then refusing to give you want out of it. Spoilers ahead for her first book, but that was the sexual relationship of convenience, where a widow needed to get pregnant quickly to secure her footing as the lady of the household, and she needed someone besides her dead husband to impregnate her. Your standard (and still enjoyable and even quality) romance novel would immediately have them sizzle in the bedroom and fall in love that way. But that doesn’t happen! It’s frustrating. But also, so intriguing. Instead, they only start to work in the bedroom after a long and involved meeting of the minds.
This is the second time she’s done that, and in A Gentleman Undone, she takes two characters who need to team up for monetary reasons, and puts them through hell, once again teasing you with your own expectations. Will Blackshear is a veteran of Waterloo (and we see his trauma firsthand in the prologue, and honestly, it surprised me by being one of the most harrowing descriptions I’ve read of war, ever, and not just in a romance novel). Because of what happened there, he feels he owes the widow of a fellow soldier enough money to set her and her young son up for life. Lydia Slaughter is currently the mistress of a wealthy gentleman with a head for numbers and an enjoyment for winning at cards (really, this is an understatement). But she knows this isn’t a permanent position, and wants to earn enough money (or win enough) to set herself up an annuity, and insure her own financial independence. After she fleeces Will at vingt-et-un (21 aka Blackjack), they eventually decide to team up and win their needed moneys together.
Except that’s such a small part of the plot! And you expect certain things from a romance novel, which she gives you, but like all backhanded and stuff. For instance, the sex scenes. NOT usual sex scenes in a novel. They were actually a bit dark and involved, and complicate the plot rather than bring the characters together. It’s hard to explain, and I don’t want to spoil it. Her language is also more dense than I’m used to with romance novels, and the whole thing feels more weighty than you would expect by looking at that cover.
I have the third (and final, sigh) book ready to go, and will be reading it next. I fully expect it to also tease me mercilessly and then give me what I want in a backhanded and thoroughly sneaky fashion.