A Gentleman Undone by Cecilia Grant (Blackshear Family #2)
May 29, 2012
Reviewed by Mandi
Will Blackshear returns from war with a heavy heart. He carried one of his critically wounded men from the battlefield to several hospitals, trying to get him help, to no avail. Right before the soldier’s death, Will promised he would take care of his wife and child. But Will doesn’t have the money to just hand over to this woman. He agrees to invest 3,000 pounds in a shipping company a friend is starting up, knowing he will eventually have a great share of the profits. But first he needs to raise the money, and the one way he knows he might be able to make some spare pounds is gambling at the card tables. It is here he meets bold-featured prostitute Lydia Slaughter.
After losing her parents when she was younger and disgracing her family, Lydia ends up in a high-end brothel. She is currently the mistress to Lord Roanoke. Lydia has a great eye for cards — and a photographic memory. Her game is blackjack and, with just one glance at the cards, she can easily remember who has what. While skilled at counting and tracking, she is also skilled at stacking the deck and slipping cards to certain players when it is her deal. She has no qualms about doing this.
Her goal is to eventually have enough money to become an independent woman and live off of the interest her money would make in the bank. She soon realizes Will is in a similar position. While Roanoke doesn’t abuse her, she is bored by him. But Will has an interest in cards and before they know it, they are sneaking off so Lydia can teach him all of her tricks of the trade.
I really loved Cecilia Grant’s debut last year and couldn’t wait to see what else she had in store for us. A Gentleman Undone has a little bit of a different feel than her first book, but I still say she has an exquisite writing voice. It’s a similar experience for me as when I read a Courtney Milan book. I feel like every sentence has a reason for being there, and I become very absorbed in each book.
A few things stood out for me in this one. Lydia isn’t happy about her situation in life, yet it isn’t as though she totally loathes her protector. She willingly goes to his bed every night and takes her role as his mistress seriously. At the same time, Will has very high standards. As these two start to spend more time together, there is a heightened sexual tension, but they don’t want to use each other. Will doesn’t want to use Lydia just for her body and Lydia has some sense of belonging to Roanoke. I really enjoyed how their relationship unfolds. I honestly wasn’t sure how it was all going to play out for a lot of the book. Nothing is rushed as these two slowly get to know each other. They both have mature, serious sides that meshed well.
If I have a little niggle about something it is after they fall into a physical relationship. Will doesn’t want Lydia "the mistress" in his bed. He wants the Lydia he has come to care for when they play cards. And for Lydia, that is a struggle — one that I wanted to see play out a little more. I’m not sure I was fully convinced Lydia wasn’t playing a part in bed, even at the end. It made sense for her to have this struggle, but I wanted to see her come to peace with just being someone’s love, rather than someone’s possession.
I think Will’s back story with the guilt he carries around from his friend dying at war is done really well. What happened with his friend is such a dark time for him, something he feels will haunt him for the rest of his life. But Lydia really helps him dig out from under all of that guilt, and I like how it played out at the end.
Grant brings in the card games and all of the rules and betting details well, without the reader getting confused or losing interest. This is such a pivotal side to Lydia, and I found it fascinating to read about. In many historical romances, card tables are present, but in this book the cards become part of the story and part of Lydia and Will’s relationship. Well done.
I’m really enjoying this author’s voice and look forward to more.
This review first appeared at USA Today’s Happy Ever After