I love a good freebie from the Kindle store; I’ve discovered many books that I would have otherwise been unaware of because they were free on the Kindle store. The Wild One by Danelle Harmon was one of those freebies. Reading this first book in a series of 4 lead me immediately on to the thee related stories; The Beloved One, The Defiant One and The Wicked One. This review CONTAINS SPOILERS so please be warned before reading on.
The Wild One introduces the reader to Gareth de Montforte, third eldest of four brothers and one sister, and known for being a bit of a hell-raiser in the local community. Gareth is the leader of a gang called the Den of Debauchery – a group of rich, young men who insist on pulling pranks, drinking and gambling until their hearts are content. He is a source of constant disappointment to his eldest brother, the fifth Duke of Blackheath – Lucien. When he comes across a stagecoach robbery, he decides to play the hero, only to find that the woman he is rescuing is his dead brother’s fiance, Juliet, and she has their young daughter with her. The less than warm reception she receives at the hand of the Duke makes Gareth determined to give Juliet and his niece a live that they deserve. Little does he realise that Lucien’s reception was part of a bigger plan for Gareth and Juliet. Juliet is grieving her dead fiance, but understands that she needs to do right by her daughter. She is nervous about Gareth’s reputation, but goes against her better judgement and marries him. She chooses to put her faith in this charming, funny, bounding English aristocrat and hopes that he can prove himself a good father and a good husband despite the odds being stacked against them both.
Gareth proved to be a very likeable character from the start. His opening act of saving those being robbed showed him to be a decent sort of man, laying the foundation for all that would come later in the story and making it easier for the reader to keep on his side when he was acting less than desirably towards Juliet. His fun-loving, light-hearted nature made him a very charming read and his Den of Debauchery friends to be a great support network for the story. I really enjoyed seeing Gareth mature at his own pace throughout this novel; by not rushing things, the author kept his progression from irresponsible and childish to a well-rounded and loving man more believable – he made mistakes and got it wrong time and time again but never stopped trying, giving him an even higher level of likeability as a character.
Juliet’s plight was something the reader is made to feel from the very first page of the novel. She was instantly portrayed as someone vulnerable, so when she found no help in the one place she was expecting it, the character became very much a damsel in distress (every good romance novel needs one); I defy any reader to not pity a character who has lost the father of her child and has had to move country, only to face rejection in her hour of most desperate need. At times she came across as a little self-pitying, in that she seemed incapable of letting go of one situation to try to handle another, and about half way through the story she became a little irritating in her blindness to what she had gained by marrying Gareth. However, the character was redeemed quickly when she stuck by her husband against all odds; her maturity and dedication to her marriage was her best quality.
The relationship between the two characters was easy from the start, with both warming to each other very quickly. What I liked most is how the author showed their relationship, once easy, straining under a change in situation. Both characters had to adapt to keep their relationship going, which is something that a lot of love stories shy away from; it was a refreshing change from the fairy tale romances that are sometimes spun in historical romance novels. Eventually, both Gareth and Juliet were shown to be bringing out the best in each other, Gareth matured and Juliet learned to trust another in a way she hadn’t done before, which was a great foundation to build their relationship on. The passion that was injected by the author was a great bonus for what would have otherwise been a great relationship anyway.
The Beloved One picks up the story of Charles, heir presumptive to the dukedom of Blackheath and originally thought lost at war in America. This story runs in parallel to that of Gareth de Montforte, and shows the reader what was really happening to Charles while his family thought he was dead. Injured in battle, Charles awakens to find himself being cared for by the family of a boy whose life he spared. This boy’s sister has taken up his care and soothes him back to full health over the period of several months. Over this time, Charles comes to feel very protective of the girl, Amy, as she suffers at the hand of her family. Unfortunately for Charles, he’s promised to another and destined to go back to England to be with her. Amy, ever the dutiful daughter, does her best to ease the burden on Charles and takes all the pain on her own shoulders; she’s finally found the man she’s been dreaming of but she knows it can’t be. He takes Amy back to England with him to get her away from her family, in the hopes that she will find work and make a new life for himself, but when he returns to find his betrothed happily married to his brother, it opens a door they both thought was closed. The problem for both of them is that Charles doesn’t deem himself worthy, and he is unable to get past his own self-pity and see what’s right in front of him.
Charles’s character is one that can easily elicit a mixed reaction. He was shown to be chivalrous and decent in his defence of Amy towards those who could have very easily made his life very difficult. However, he was also shown to be a self-pitying wreck, who seemed incapable of dealing with the situation he found himself in. No-one who reads his story can deny that he has been dealt a bad hand – injury at war, stranded in a foreign country living in the home of his supposed enemy, blindness as a result of his life-saving surgery, facing rejection from everyone he has known (the army, his family and his betrothed), but his incessant wallowing got a bit much at some points. His need for perfection before he would do right by Amy was also quite frustrating, as he was willing to take risks with her body but not with her heart. He became a more attractive hero towards the end of the story, but his redemption as a character definitely came later on in the series for me as a reader.
Amy, on the other hand, was a fantastic heroine for the story. She was portrayed as someone who was strong and independent, despite what she’d had to face in her young life. Her family treated her as a servant, but she always attempted to defend them. Charles didn’t always treat her the best he could, but she always wanted the best for him and helped him regain his confidence in whatever way she could. Her selfless nature was her defining character and she was an incredibly likeable read throughout the story. As a reader, I felt frustrated for her when Charles let her down, which for me is a mark of a great character – when I feel myself becoming involved in their life.
The relationship between the two was well-written, and (although I had some frustrations towards Charles) I liked that their love was based on a foundation of friendship. Their friendship had arisen from their determination to not give in to the temptations of their attraction, but it was a strong and solid friendship nonetheless. It gave a touch of realism to their story that can be really appreciated if read the right way. It would have been great to see Amy get a little more of what she deserved earlier on in the story, but their passionate encounters provided a much-needed boost of confidence for the reader by way of confirming that Charles was truly interested in her. Again, both characters were shown to be benefitting from the relationship: Amy gained confidence and Charles learned to cope with imperfections in his life.
The Defiant One gives the reader more time with the youngest de Montforte brother, Andrew. He has always been more interested in his scientific experiments than with the trappings of society, and this is only intensified by his mysterious illness. He is fed up with his eldest brother Lucien inviting doctors to their manor to examine him; little does he know that Lucien’s plans for him go far beyond examination. Lady Celsiana Blake was always the black sheep, but her father’s inheritance money has made her very popular. Keeping true to herself, she uses the money to raise money for struggling animals – making her a laughing stock. When she discovers that Lord Andrew has been experimenting on animals, she marches into his laboratory to confront him and instead ends up in a rather compromising position and lands herself an engagement. Unlike his brothers, Andrew realises he has been forced into marrying Celsie at his brother’s hands and is furious. Determined to outsmart his brother, he enlists his fiancee’s help in extricating themselves from their engagement. As they spend more time together, Celsie finds that she’s not as against the thought of marrying Andrew as she first thought she was, but she faces a challenge in winning the heart of her betrothed.
Andrew’s stubborn dedication to science made for an interesting character development, I’m not used to reading geeky heroes in these kind of novels so it made for a refreshing change. Andrew, like Gareth and Charles before him, was shown be a genuinely decent man, but that side of him was sometimes hidden by questionable behaviour. His angry outbursts and need to keep Celsie at arms length were never annoying, nor did they detract from his character, because the reader was always in on the secret that he only behaved this way as a result of fear about his illness. His behaviour came from a place of vulnerability, which was understandable and kept the charm of his character alive in the rough patches.
Celsie was also given a vulnerable side from the beginning, in that she was only accepted into society because of her father’s inheritance but was always made to feel like an outsider. What is most likeable about her, though, is her fighting spirit; her confrontation with Andrew at the start of the story shows her to be fiercely protective of that which she holds dear. This robustness of character shines through more and more as the story develops and culminates in her decision to show Andrew that she will stand by him no matter what happens to either of them. She was neither damsel in distress, nor overpowering; she was a very well-balanced character and easy to read.
The relationship between these two characters was different to those that had come in the earlier books of the series, in that their relationship was forged in an attempt to avoid marrying each other. I loved that both characters were so blind to how well suited they were for each other, one particular favourite moment was when Andrew was saying how he didn’t have time for a wife because he was so busy with his scientific experiments and Celsie said how she was too busy for a husband because of her charitable efforts on behalf of struggling and abused animals; neither realising that the fact that they were both so busy meant that they were better suited for each other than if they had married someone else with fewer interests. Using the aphrodisiac that Andrew accidentally created to highlight the underlying passion between the two characters was a great move, and a very novel way of bringing two characters together. The one thing that proved frustrating was that the reader was never given a diagnosis for Andrew’s condition; it might be that a greater purpose was at play in that keeping things vague proved that Celsie really was determined to stick around no matter what, but it would have been nice for the reader to know what the couple were dealing with.
The Wicked One brings us to Lucien’s story. He’s been busy organising the love lives of his brothers, and he only has one sibling left – his sister. Once he’s got Nerissa married off to Lord Brookhampton, he’ll be able to spend his remaining time in peace. He’s not interested in marriage for himself, but his new acquaintance, Eva, is proving to be most intriguing. They are both determined to remain in complete control of the situation, as they have done all their lives, but find it more and more difficult to deny their chemistry. Eventually, they slip, and Lucien’s family use it as opportunity to get revenge for all of his scheming in their love lives by forcing him into a marriage with Eva. Their matched and incessant need for control makes their betrothal a difficult and complicated thing, but underneath it all both hearts are starting to soften. If neither is careful, it might be too late for them to realise that some things are more important than control.
Lucien’s story was the most highly anticipated for me as a reader, and it didn’t disappoint. Lucien as a character had been most widely spread of the four brothers, in that he started to develop in The Wild One and was the only real constant in all four stories. Upon first meeting him, Lucien was portrayed as a cold-hearted, malevolent, angry Duke and was instantly easy to hate. However, as the series progressed, he started to soften, and the reader was able to understand that he only acted in the best interests of his brothers, never aiming to cause them any harm. His plot in The Wicked One showed him to be a man who was set on completing his mission and was still very closed off to the idea of his own happiness. The wall that he built around himself was there as a result of the idea that he was soon to die, and seeing the way he desperately clung to this wall as it started to crumble around him was endearing in an odd sort of way.
Eva’s character was different to those of the other heroines in the series, as she was shown to be just as stubborn and closed off as her counterpart, with her being portrayed as a female version of the cold-hearted Duke; this in itself made it instantly clear that the two would make a great couple. Watching Eva struggle as her political career was ruined as a result of her inability to resist the temptation that Lucien offered her was fascinating, especially when an insight is given as to why she has become so closed off to matters of the heart. She, along with Lucien, is given an increasing amount of vulnerability as the plot develops and seeing how she coped with this made her by far the most interesting of the de Montforte heroines.
The relationship between Eva and Lucien was the most interesting of the series; originally built on mutual need for control of the other and an imagined battleground for their stubborn characters to war each other, but slowly becoming a very passionate and emotional rollercoaster for them both to navigate. Their natures made them a perfect suit for each other, and their constant need to best the other gave a great arena for their natural chemistry to flow off the pages. As a result, their relationship was also the most passionate of the series; this is something that the author seems to have deliberately built the reader up for throughout the series. By making Lucien the most stubborn and hard-hearted of the four brothers, the author made it clear that his was going to be the most interesting transition and emotional and awakening; it would have been impossible to give Lucien anything other than Eva as a partner in crime without disappointing those who had read the whole series in the hopes of a fantastic climax (pun intended) with Lucien.
Reading the stories of the de Montforte brothers has been a very enjoyable experience for me as a reader. The one thing that left me feeling slightly disappointed is that Nerissa didn’t get her own story. She was given the most focus in Lucien’s story, where a sub-plot involving her and Perry Brookhampton unfolded. They are on the verge of getting engaged, but Perry seems reluctant to give up his freedom. Voicing this to her eldest brother results in the most tragic of consequences; in his attempts to get the same outcome for his sister as he did for his brothers, Lucien sends Perry to Spain on a fake mission in an attempt to make him realise that he loves Nerissa enough to marry her, only for him to be involved in a ship robbery and presumed dead. Nerissa eventually gets her happy ending, as all the de Montfortes do, but it would have been great for her to have been developed more as a character. Throughout The Wicked One she was shown to have inherited the same great qualities and stubbornness as her brothers, and she deserved more as a character than to be relegated to a sub-plot in Lucien’s story.
Despite my frustrations, I whole-heartedly loved the series and it is now one of my favourites. This is partly because there was one very clear similarity between all four books that the reader is led to across the series: the de Montforte brothers are very good men. They all have an underlying sense of what is right and how to treat those around them, but they are made to struggle through a lot of hardship to get to a place where this aspect of their characters can shine through in the right way. All four brothers made for great heros, and as a reader, I’d have been glad to be heroine for any one of them.
One other theme that was overwhelming throughout the series was the sense of family. All 5 members of the de Montforte family are clearly people who would do anything for those they love, going as far as risking their lives for each other on several occasions; Gareth goes out of his way to protect his brother’s fiance and niece, Charles protects Amy from the wrath of her family and also risks his live to save his brother, Andrew puts his life on the line in place of Celsie’s when he learns she is in danger and Lucien not only goes about securing the happiness of his family at any cost, but puts himself through extreme pain and hardship to save the live of his wife. It becomes clear in the Lucien’s story that this loving attitude towards their loved ones is something that all of them owe to their parents – the good example set for them in young life has carried through to adulthood and made them all very emotionally-dependent people. Those who are lucky enough to be on the receiving end of this love prove to be no different, in their need to put their loved ones first in the priority list – Juliet marries Gareth for the sake of her daughter, and later stands by Gareth even when a better option is available to her; Amy puts Charles’ needs before her own in keeping quiet about how she feels so that he doesn’t have to feel guilty; Celsie stands by her new husband when she learns of his illness and Eva learns that trusting in Lucien is the greatest thing she can do for him. The sense of family that is portrayed made the de Montforte world so much more complete and real, as everyone would love to be part of a family that does so much for each other; while the love stories are the main focus, I think this plot-line is the unsung hero of the series.