77 of 88 people found the following review helpful
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I went into this book with some expectations, having heard a bit about how controversial it is. Words like "offensive" and "forced seduction" were bandied about a lot, and so I thought Claiming the Courtesan would test the limits of the genre in a way that's challenging and provocative, or, at the very least, interesting. How very wrong I was. I really really really didn't like this book. I couldn't decide if it was simply dated or if the bodice ripper 80s feel was part of a more deliberate attempt to subvert and disturb. I'm guessing the latter was the intent, but the book failed so horribly at it that the former was the case. I thought the whole thing was just plain crazy, and not in a good way.
Synopsis: Verity Ashton, alias Soraya, is the coolest courtesan out there. All the randy dukes and viscounts and even plain misters are fighting and killing themselves over her. After six years of waiting, Justin, the Duke of Kylemore has her for his own. When the story starts, they've been together for a year, and Verity, per the agreements of her contract with him, is terminating their relationship. Since she's worried he'll put up a fuss, she sneaks off without telling him to start her new life as a fake widow living in the country, doing good works. Soraya is dead and gone to her. The Duke, so that we can have a story, goes crazy, chases after her, catches her, and carts her off to the highlands so that he can wreck his vengeance and have his wicked way with her a million bazillion times. And that's exactly what he does - maybe my count is a bit off, but it certainly seemed like all they do is boink.
The book hints at the possibility of the duke's madness, through the age old fear that since his father was crazy, maybe he could be too. This could have been interesting in a cool and edgy way, and I think the book aspires towards a gothic feel in this sense, but its reach far exceeds its grasp. Of course Justin's not really crazy - he can't be the dashing hero of the romance if he were. But to me the guy is nuts - as in his character is an incoherent babbling mess of extreme emotions that are never examined or explored. He's obsessed! He's angry! He's sad! He's ashamed! He's angry! He's still obsessed! His only consistency is that he's horny. All the time. I couldn't care less for Justin's supposed remorse and shame after each time he rapes Verity. Nor is his obsession with her remotely sexy. If this kind of schizophrenia isn't bad enough, the book manages to be boring as well. Schizoid and dry as dust? Who knew such a combination was even possible. The prose is florid, over exaggerated, clunky, awkward, and repetitive.
The redundancy is thanks to Verity as well, who goes on and on about how she hates Justin. She tries to resist him, but he sure can give her the best sex of her life, or make her fly around in the stars or whatever this author calls it. The sex scenes were torture to read - not because half of them are rape, but because they're so boring. So I couldn't even muster up any outrage or sympathy on Verity's behalf. The situation had a lot of potential, but rather than a complex exploration of Justin's actions and their repercussions, all I got was melodrama. Verity and Justin are a couple of cardboard cut outs indulging in erratic outbursts, all of which is supposed to pass for powerful emotion.
The first half is about the hero and heroine having sex then berating themselves and the other for it afterwards, then going at it again, then berating each other again... you get the drill. This is the "controversial" part I assume. As detailed above, that didn't work for me, not because it was offensive, but because it was boring and didn't make any sense. The book only goes downhill from there when the author tries to convince me that Verity and Justine are falling in love with each other. Cue every cliché you can imagine. The plot was tired and predictable. Verity and Justin each have their sob stories. By invoking the old formula, even if the author's intent was to subvert it, she only manages to entrench her story all the more solidly in the tedium of two transparent characters who aren't nearly as evil/tough as they're advertised. In this respect, the book is one big lie. Justin isn't ruthless and cold. He's a tortured soul. He just needs some TLC. And the big "revelation" of his dark, sad, terrible childhood - it was nothing! I couldn't believe that was what all the fuss was about, particularly since this "big secret" was practically spelled out for us early on. So Justin just seemed like a big baby to me. I couldn't take him seriously at all.
Verity is even worse though. She's a courtesan, right? But so that the author can pussyfoot around this scandalous detail, she gives Verity a split personality disorder. There's Soraya the whore and Verity the Madonna. This supposed "conflict" is never more than superficially addressed, and the whole book is drawn according to a garish black and white divide. Verity is your typical harebrained martyr. She only started out on her path of sin in order to save her brother and sister. Campbell goes so far as to actually recover Verity's long lost virginity. I kid you not. As Verity, she goes from acting the virgin to becoming a pseudo-virgin. Campbell actually did that. She actually went there and has the hero rejoicing in how sweet and wonderful and innocent Verity is when he finds out she's only had three lovers, including him. As part of her goodness, she has to play the ministering angel to the duke's tortured rake act - he's a suffering fellow creature. She just can't say no to him! He has nightmares, and she heals and comforts him after he rapes her. Because she loves him. Don't ask me to try and understand the logic of that. The book never explores their relationship. It just goes on and on about a deep, awesome "connection" between the two of them, without ever venturing to demonstrate what this "connection" might be exactly - besides flying through the stars in climaxes from heaven, that is.
Soon after Verity thinks she loves Justin, she decides this means she has to run away. She's not too bright, remember. She runs off into the wilderness (we're supposed to believe that this is a sign of her courage.) Her flight causes Justin to have his random epiphany that maybe he shouldn't have kidnapped and raped her, and he's so, so sorry, he hates himself, he's evil, what has he done! He has to save her from herself because she could die out in the wilds of Scotland. Because she is stupid, she almost does, and falls off a cliff. Yep. It's awesome. Less awesome is the fact that he manages to save her and pull her to safety, not only because her demise would mean the end of the book, but also because the author manages to make this terrifying brush with death drag on at a torturously slow, stumbling pace.
The rest of the book involves endless vacillations on the parts of Verity and Justin. He bends over backwards in his remorse, agonizing over how she could never love him after what he did to her, (you think?) all while still wanting to shag her brains out. He will be good and let her go though (this is supposed to make me like him I guess.) As for Verity, she loves him, but knows that it would never work out because he's a duke and she's a whore and his loving her will destroy him (whatever that means.) So she has to give him up. She does this over and over again, saying she has to leave him, then hunting him down again so that she can tell him again that she has to leave him, WHILE NEVER ACTUALLY LEAVING HIM.
This book is neither daring nor different. It's the same old story told badly. And I couldn't even begin to formulate an opinion on the book's "controversial" nature or lack thereof re: rape/forced seduction, because the plot is executed so shoddily that I have nothing to work with. If you want to read a true redemption/healing story, I'd recommend Beau Crusoe. The hero has nightmares in that book as well, and madness is an issue too, but Beau Crusoe depicts real emotions and believable characters, with beautiful writing thrown into the bargain - none of which can be found in Claiming the Courtesan.
27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
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For the past 6 years the infamous and highly sought after courtesan, Soraya, has been the center of the Duke of Kylemore's fascination. For the past year he has been lucky enough to secure a contract with her and make her his own mistress. He has lavished her with gifts and a home, while she fulfilled his sexual desires. Kylemore is besotted with his mistress, but as their year's contract comes to an end, she disappears.
Soraya isn't quite what she seems and after her year with the Duke she is now financially independent, she leaves the life of a paramour behind and seeks normalcy and solitude. Kylemore has no intention of losing her and essentially kidnaps her as part punishment for what he sees as betrayal and to make her his again.
At first I was really put off by the Duke's attitude, he was not a very emotionally attractive hero and I found myself, more than once, wishing she'd kick his butt. His obsession with her clouds his judgment and makes him to some pretty heinous things. For the first part of the book he is a knuckle-dragging, club wielding, poster child for arrogant and clueless men. Luckily he redeems himself and began endearing himself to me as he began showing a more human and vulnerable side.
Soraya, on the other hand, more than made up for his lack of personality in the first half of the book. She's an intelligent, multifaceted, resourceful woman. In the face of adversity she makes hard decisions and does what she has to do to make it in this world with her head held high. Bravo. Despite her profession, she is an admirable woman and heroine.
The story gets a little repetitive, here and there, and at times I felt both characters were running in circles. The repetition, however, is easily forgivable when the characters have such depth and the scenery and character's are described so thoroughly that they are easily imagined. On the whole the story entertained me, exceptionally, for many hours. This was my first book by this author and it won't be my last.
Cherise Everhard, Jan. 31, 2008
23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
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This is a wonderful character-driven tale of two emotionally impaired individuals who find their true selves - and each other - under the most unusual of conditions. Soraya, notorious and much-desired mistress of the powerful Duke of Kylemore, leaves him without a word and steals away in the night - after Kylemore proposes marriage, no less. The proud Kylemore is enraged and humiliated and searches unceasingly for his wayward lover, certain she left him for another man. He had been exceptionally good to Soraya - financially and personally - and feels utterly betrayed by her duplicity.
Three long months later, Kylemore finds Soraya living with her brother in a remote English village as a respectable widow under her real name of Verity Ashton. It seems Verity planned and saved for years in order to retire from her hated profession. Kylemore doesn't care about her reasons - he knows only that she deceived and abandoned him, and now she "owes" him. He forcefully abducts Verity and takes her to his isolated Scottish estate where he is eager to exact his revenge. He is not really certain what he wants from Verity but, whether she is willing or not, sex and submission are on the menu. Verity is NOT willing - she no longer wants to be Soraya - and is determined to resist Kylemore and return to a virtuous life. But things are not that simple, as she soon discovers.
This is an excellent debut novel whose characters, storyline and intensity gripped me from the first. I have a particular liking for historical romances like this one that walk a little on the dark side and pack an emotional punch. Verity and Kylemore are a potent combination of tender and tough, and from the start there is something very tangible between them. Unlike some other reviewers, the forced nature of their early encounters does not bother me - in fact, it really makes the story. It shocks them into reevaluating who they are and where the other person fits in. Despite a year together, and an acquaintance of much longer, there is so much they have kept hidden - from each other and from themselves. Theirs is an interesting psychological and emotional journey, as well as a compelling physical one. And the author's sometimes sparse phrasing and dialogue creates good dramatic impact. This is no simple romance, nor is it one easily forgotten.
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
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This was a fascinating book. It was truly fascinating and yet so depressing. It's quiet and moody and well, romance noir. The aliented, doomed hero and the femme fatale. Corruption, madness, and moral breakdown. It's all here. And it's sometimes hard to read.
Claiming The Courtesan starts with the incomparable beauty Soraya and her protector the Duke of Kylemore, Justin Kinmurrie enjoying a postcoital glow. All is right with Kylemore's world, he possesses the mistress that is the envy of the ton and he's decided upon the perfect revenge against his interfering witch of a mother. Marriage to the courtesan, Soraya. What he doesn't know is that Soraya has been planning her escape of him and is in fact going to leave him within a fortnight. Enraged and humiliated, he tracks her down three months later and by gunpoint, kidnaps her and drags her to his tumbledown hunting box deep in the Scottish Highlands. He's determined to break her indomitable will and force her to acknowledge him as her master, her lover and eventually, her husband. He doesn't know that beneath Soraya's silken sensuality and urbane sophistication lies Verity, the woman underneath the courtesan facade, and Verity has a core of steel that refuses to bow down to his demands. Her refusals to accept him threatens to break Kylemore's tenuous hold on his sanity and his methods of ensuring her obedience grows desperate. She must submit to him. She must love him, because if she does not, the madness that lurks within the Kinmurrie blood could overtake him and then all he holds dear will be lost.
Kylemore has the requisite tortured childhood and the type of evil mother that has ruined many a good man. He knows the threat of insanity that lies dormant in his family blood because he watched his father go down that path and to this day, it terrifies him. The only thing that stands bastion against his fears, is knowing he has his Soraya by his side. When she leaves, he is desperate to get her back. While he is desperate, I wouldn't call Kylemore pathetic. Anna Campbell, IMO, straddles that line well and as such, makes him a man who can be redeemed. He knows that what he is doing to Verity, the woman, is wrong. He literally can't help himself. He needs her. He needs her to keep the demons away and save him from himself. While that need and love battles back and forth from obsession and dependence, he will eventually stand on his own two feet. To see him do that at the end of the book was, well, for lack of a better word, fascinating. I applauded his ability to shake off the shackles of his parents and realize that despite the ever present threat of insanity, he can rise above it and be a better man. In all honesty, I don't believe there was an actual insanity gene in his bloodline, more like a debilitating capacity for horrifying self indulgence. With Verity removing herself from Kylemore's grasp/toybox, he at first reacts with childish fury. How dare she steal herself away from him, he thinks. When she stood up to him, she forced him to realize that his needs and wants can't always come first. He might have wanted to strip away the strictures of his dukedom, but he liked the power. When he comes to terms with that and realizes that Verity is a person, he can allow himself to step back a little, and learn to love the woman.
Soraya/Verity was I thought, worse off than Kylemore. At least he knew he had problems, she didn't. She was forced to create the courtesan Soraya out of need and desperation and over the years, she completely split herself in two. Soraya, who could do anything or be anything and Verity, who remained clean and untouched. When Verity leaves Soraya behind, she thinks to immerse herself in good works and live a celibate and demure existence. While I completely sympathize with her anger and frustration at being dragged back to Kylemore, I think he ultimately did her a favor, because she needed to come to grips with both sides of her personality and meld them into one person.
In my opinion, Kylemore raped Verity. Repeatedly. While I understand his confusion in Verity's claims that she was not Soraya, I still believe what he did to her constitutes rape and humiliation. The journey from Yorkshire into the Highlands was meant to break her will and he nearly succeeds. He holds the threat of her rape over her head the entire time and when he finally comes to her, she tells him plainly and in an unequivocal manner, no. She does not want him to touch her. In fact, she's practically exhausted herself with fear. He ignores her wants and desires and forces himself on her anyway. It is part desire on his part and part punishment. I hated Kylemore in those scenes. Anna Campbell doesn't stop at one scene, however. Kylemore comes back for more, night after night. She tries to run away from him repeatedly, into the deadly wilderness of the Highlands but he just drags her back. Whether or not he knows enough about her body to make her respond to him is irrelevant, he forced her to engage in sexual acts not of her choosing.
Once all the inner emotional turmoil is dispensed with however, their sex turns into lovemaking. Verity realizes she has always been fascinated by the duke and once she comes to terms with the fact she can be both Verity and Soraya, both the Madonna and the whore, she acknowledges to herself at least that she loves him. She refuses to be deserted by him though and have her heart broken, so when he asks her to marry him again, she refuses. She won't make him a laughingstock and a pariah and neither will she do that to herself. This is when Kylemore realizes she is sincere and whole and that there is nothing more he can do but challenge her as she challenged him.
After all this exhausting angst and inner turmoil, Claiming the Courtesan delves back into familiar romance territory with the damsel in distress and the rescuing hero on horseback and then the requisite groveling scene. While it's still dark as hell, this is actually a relief!
What I'm trying to say with this exhaustive review is that Claiming the Courtesan was a fascinating read, but I wouldn't want to read it again. Too exhausting, too depressing and too full of emotional inner turmoil. This is not a romance to be swept away in, nor is it a book full of humor and love. It's full of everyday people and problems hiding behind a mask of Regency glitter and titles. This is not a pretty story and in actuality gets down right ugly at times. It's a grotesque gothic horror that leaves you feeling stunned and awed. If ever two people deserved a happily ever after, it was these two.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
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The dark, gothic setting, the not so perfect hero, the atmosphere reminiscent of 'Wuthering Heights' made a 'pleasant' change to the usual lollipop sweet regency romances that hold few if any surprises. It is an unsettling read at times, but for me that was what made it stand apart from the run of the mill stories whose heroes' actions are so predictable that you know that around page 197 they will make love and at page 223 there will be a misunderstanding which will be solved in the last few pages. Yawn.
The Duke of Kylemore, Justin Kinmurrie, is the proud owner of London's most sought after woman who has kept his bed warm for the last year since he settled a mythical sum on her in exchange of her favours. She's as invaluable to him as his prized horses, sparing little concern for her other than buying her expensive gifts, receiving in return unsurpassed carnal gratification . When his calculating , unfeeling mother coldly demands he marry since duty dictates he produce heirs, he thinks of proposing to his mistress to spite his pernicious mother. Besides, there' no othe woman he wants to live with.
Verity Ashton was forced by circumstances to trade her looks for security, living by the name of Soraya and assuming a personality appropriate to her role. She has been saving her money however, and will escape at the first opportunity to live an innocuous life away from London. That opportunity does indeed arrive but she has not bargained for the indomitadable Lord who cannot tolerate the thought of being duped. He sets off in search of her, leaving no stone unturned, until he finds her and violently whisks her away to his rundown castle in the Scottish Highlands. Escape from there is synonymous to death, so isolated is the place. Kylmore's volatile temperment makes him appear like a Neandertal, but Verity fights to retain her new found identity and can no longer act as Soraya willing to succumb to the Lord's blatant sexual demands. When his choleric outbursts fail to dissuade Verity, he resorts to rape in a frenetic attempt to brand her as his.
The story has a morbid atmosphere , fraught with angst for both heroes. I sympathised with Verity's predicament and her brave attempt to find peace and normalcy in her life. I also felt for Justin's agony in trying to hold onto the only human being he felt love for, but his emotionally deprived upringing prevented him from recognising it as such. He has to overcome the conceit and arrogance his status has imbued him in by humbling himself before this woman and thus attain his own liberation. This author knows how to deliver and does not succumb to the safe, familiar plots. Well done!