17 July 2012

Stephanie Laurens: the next batch of Cynsters

The first seven Cynsters were overpowering taken together so I waited a bit before tackling another set.

The Promise in a Kiss is a prequel of-sorts, published between books seven and eight, yet jumping back to the Georgian period for the tempestuous courtship of Devil's parents, the bachelor Sebastian and willful Helena.  It starts with Sebastian breaking into a convent to retrieve a desired valuable dagger where he is found by Helena, a student there.  He kisses her into silence and disappears, leaving her to wonder.  They meet again when Helena comes to London on a mission from her guardian to retrive the dagger.  Sparks fly, flirtation is exchanged, and a daring rescue mission to France is undertaken to rescue Helena's sister.  This is a great book for character development, especially that of Charles, who is a small child in this book, but it goes a long way toward explaining the development of his sociopathy.  My only problem - and this is pretty big - is trying to justify the Sebastian and Helena in this book with the fact that Sebastian knocked up Richard's mother while he was in Scotland after he and Helena married.  This Helena doesn't seem so sanguine as to tolerate a philandering husband, she's just as possessive as he is.  It just doesn't square.

Book eight brings us back to the post-Regency period and our first female Cynster, Amanda.  In On a Wild Night, Amanda and her twin Amelia are searching for husbands.  And striking out.  All the gentlemen they're allowed to associate are boring, polite, fortune-hunting, or just plain unsuitable, nothing like the cousins they're used to and all incapable of exhibiting the serious passion and love of family needed by a Cynster.  While Amelia works on a strateigic plan to snare one man (her secret and she's not telling), Amanda decides to go off-script and visit the shadier edges of the ton.  For surely, her hero will be there.  And he is - Martin Fullbridge, the Earl of Dexter, was banished from England by his father following an accusation of rape and murder.  Martin steps in to help Amanda when she gets out of her depth...and in return, Amanda enlists him as her escort-in-crime.  Soon it appears that Martin's past is actively looking to keep him silent and it endangers both of them.  I liked Laurens's take on a female Cynster (not that any of the previous eight women were vapourish misses) who isn't afraid to ask for what she wants.  I found it odd that Martin would assume Amanda would elope to Scotland with Reggie just to spite him - my money is on Reggie being gay - but it did get them into place for the assassin.

Amelia is next up to bat in On a Wicked Dawn.  Having fun through all her options - and returning again and again to the only man she wants to marry - Amelia sets out her argument...to Lucien Ashford, a longtime family friend.  Although he seems prickly and usually tried to hold the twins at a distance, Amelia is certain that Luc will marry her once he hears her reasons: that she knows the family is hard up, they would make a good match, etc., etc.  Once they are married, she can work on bringing him to love her.  She puts all these reasons to Luc scandalously early one morning only to have him pass out at her feet, drunk.  He had been out celebrating the recovery of the family coffers due to yeoman's work by the estate manager, himself, and his mother - they had worked so long to preserve his sisters dowries, the illusion of money, that no one ever caught on.  And now here's Amelia Cynster, the woman he has wanted for years yet felt he couldn't offer for her due to debt, telling him she's guessed his secret and offering herself to him as his wife.  From this misunderstanding, Luc refuses an overly hasty marriage, insisting on publicly wooing Amelia so the ton will not get the wrong idea about their marriage.  Intermixed with the marriage plot is that of a plot carried over from the previous book, a young woman pressured to steal items to help the villain of On a Wild Night financially.  There's some oddness in the "To Catch a Thief" plot but it was still readable.  A highlight of the book was a quiet scene between Devil and Honoria just after Luc and Amelia's wedding.

The last "older" Cynster cousin introduced in Devil's book is Simon, the twins' younger brother.  He goes looking for his heroine in The Perfect Lover.  Now, caveat, this book jumps forward a number of years.  I didn't notice quite at first until Simon mentions that he inherited a house from Great Aunt Clara...who is alive in the Cynster sisters trilogy.  There is little interaction from previous Cynster characters, just Lady Osbaldestone (who is old as crap in this book).  The mystery is nice, with a good twist, but without the other characters I missed how well-seated into the Cynster family these books are.

Another caveat: Now that the books are moving into the younger generation, the sex scenes do get a little icky since we get to read about characters introduced as children.  At least the next set of books concerns brothers and sisters of the Bar Cynster wives.

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