08 March 2012

Stephanie Laurens: The Cynster Sisters Trilogy

As mentioned previously, I read In Pursuit of Eliza Cynster then went back and started at the beginning of the Cynster series.  After a couple of days to get over the Bar Cynster, I polished off books three and one in the Cynster Sisters trilogy (Eliza's book is the second).  And I'll review them in that order since that informed my opinion of one of them.

Eliza Cynster is kidnapped at her elder sister Heather's engagement ball.  Although Eliza has been guarded due to a kidnapping attempt on Heather, the Cynster family thought she would be safe during the ball.  Although she is closely guarded, Eliza manages to make eye contact with a passing gentleman - scholar Jeremy Carling.  The two have an acquaintance and Jeremy believes the look on her face is out of character.  So he follows the getaway carriage, learns of Eliza's predicament, and follows them all the way to Edinburgh.  After a clever rescue, Jeremy and Eliza set off across Scotland with the kidnapping ringleader (but not, it seems, the mastermind) Scrope in hot pursuit. 

Although Jeremy is (what I realize now is the pattern-card for Cynster heroes) quite buff and perfect for a scholar, I liked how Eliza had a near-fatal flaw: she can't ride a horse.  This little detail added any number of diversions, back-tracks, and episodes of frustration over not being able to hire a gig/wheeled conveyance during the escape as well as providing convenient plot points where Jeremy and Eliza can engage in some pre-marital snogging.  One thing that was done well was the "introduction" of the extended Cynster family - by staying with the character "new" to the Cynster circle (Jeremy) the characters from the previous 19 or so novels can be summarized without obvious expositional time-outs.  New readers are caught up while old readers are not bored.

Given that Jeremy and Eliza appeared to witness the death of the unknown "laird" from a fall (there's some weird backstory for this laird character that doesn't make a lot of sense in book two), as The Capture of the Earl of Glencrae opens the Cynster family feels that the threat to Angelica, the youngest Cynster sister, is minimal and relax their guard.  Bold Angelica then practically orchestrates her own kidnapping.  While wearing the necklace Catriona loaned Heather, then Eliza (the provenance I understand having gone back to read Cynster #3 - it is supposed to help lead the girls to their true loves), Angelica asks for an introduction to mysterious English nobleman...who neatly kidnaps her during a party with no one the wiser.  The perpetrator soon confesses his true identity: Dominic Lachlan Guisachan, the eighth Earl of Glencrae, aka the laird who ordered the kidnappings of Heather and Eliza.  He didn't die, only landed on a ledge and messed up his knee.  Dominic needs Angelica's help to hoodwink his mother and save his clan.

Say what??

Yeah, those odd moments included in book two now make sense.  Dominic's mother is jealous of Angelica's mother.  Who was originally betrothed to Dominic's father until she eloped with Angelica's father at Gretna Green.  Dominic's father somehow kept tabs on Angelica's mother which caused Dominic's unstable mother to decide that everything that was wrong in her life (which, by all apparent standards, was comfortable and miserable only because she was nuts) is Dominic's father's fault.  So she stole an item of value that Dominic needs by a certain date to keep the clan out of penury.  She will only relinquish this item when Dominic kidnaps - therefore, compromises and disgraces - one of Angelica's mother's daughters and drags the girl up to Glencrae to be gloated over (and I totally apologize for the convoluted nature of the plot).  So Dominic makes a deal with Angelica: if she will travel to Glencrae with him, he will marry her when the ordeal is finished.

Now, there are all sorts of things in this plot that could drive me absolutely batty.  The speed at which Angelica "Stockholms" and agrees to Dominic's plot (that silly necklace is given way to much play).  The fact that Angelica is "unconventional" meaning she's a tomboy and has a brain and uses it.  The stalkerific nature of Dominic's father's scrapbooks detailing the details of his ex-fiancee's life.  The plot is beyond outer limits and crazy-pants.  And yet it all fits together to make a very readable book.  It's really my favorite of all the Cynster novels I've read so far.  One thing I really have to commend Laurens for is giving Angelica a rather modern and practical outlook on sex: she intiates it, participates in it eagerly, and gives Dominic a run for his money in the struggle for who gets to wear the pants in the relationship (yeah, yeah, the first night is still the best-est, most orgasmic first night you could ever possibly ask for but you can't get everything you want sometimes).  And I just have to mention the cover of this book - one of the loveliest covers, the colors are so lush.

The fact that I liked Angelica's book so much made me set the bar way too high for Heather's book, Viscount Breckenridge to the Rescue.  Bored Heather, tired of the usual round of "safe" parties for ton misses because that hasn't bagged her an appropriate Cynster-worthy husband yet, attends a dubious party of the demimonde where she crosses swords with her bete noir Timothy Danvers, Viscount Breckenridge.  When Heather stomps out of the party, Timothy witnesses her kidnapping - he immediately pursues the fleeing coach as it travels north to...Gretna Green?  Although Heather could have easily escaped with Timothy before they reached the infamous Scottish border town she refuses to do so because she suspects her sisters might also be in danger (which they are, but still - worst. plan. ever.).  When Timothy finally manages to break her out of the rooming house they hotfoot it a relatively short distance to the Vale of Casphairn (followed discreetly by a man/laird who seems to be the mastermind of the whole plot).

Now, this is where the book really started to lose me.  Heather and Timothy are attracted to one another but are given these ridiculous egos that constantly get in the way of true love.  When Heather consults Catriona she loans Heather the necklace on condition she pass it to Eliza then Angelica, Henrietta, and Mary in turn once each has found her hero (which makes me wonder what Laurens has in store for the two cousins).  Through the machinations of the Sight, Timothy is accidentally gored by a bull and nearly dies...which is way too much like Richard's nasty run-in with wolfsbane potion.  It is unfortunate, but this section of the book dithered around so much I was tempted to stop reading.  I think I would have liked it more had I not read Angelica's book which was better plotted (and flipped the bad guy over into the hero category).

Time to take another Cynster break but I'll make it through the rest of the series, not to worry!

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