Stephanie Laurens lives in a completely different hemisphere from me, and hits best-seller lists with pretty much every book she produces. She has written, oh, approximately 40 volumes of historical romance, including the sprawling Bar Cynster series, which has expanded to include in-laws, friends, and people who are almost entirely unrelated to the original six Cynster cousins. She started a side series, based on an old novel called Captain Jack’s Woman, regarding seven or so gentlemen, all friends, who have come back from the Napoleonic Wars and realized that, well, they need wives. Neatly sidestepping any possibility of PTSD, each of these gentlemen has either recently come into a large fortune, a title, or both (generally both), and would be a major catch on the Marriage Mart, if they weren’t almost entirely certain to avoid it. This is the last book in the Bastion series, and kind of a bonus story: the boss of the other gentlemen, the mysterious Dalziel.
I’m cutting plot discussion, just in case Dalziel’s identity isn’t known to those reading this review. Royce Varisey, commonly known as Dalziel, was merely his father’s heir when he disobeyed the pater’s wishes and went into the service, in some sort (as a spymaster). Now his father has died, and Royce is now the duke of a giant marcher duchy, up near the border of Scotland. Not only does he not have any closure, but before the funeral is even over, the grandes dames in the ton have decided that he must be married ASAP. Oh, and the last conspirator in the giant web of Napoleonic agents that he’s spent the last few years ferreting out is still on the loose. Can his life possibly get any more complicated? — Oh yes. Enter his obliviously perfect chatelaine . . .
Stephanie Laurens’s heroes are almost identical, and her heroines generally get the same cavalier treatment. Her heroes are always unreasonably large (men that tall aren’t terribly common today, let alone nearly two hundred years ago), super-alpha, and usually desperate for land and family. The ones who already had land are very, very possessive about it. As a matter of fact, they’re generally possessive about everything, especially their potential wives. As strong as those last few lines are, they’re really an understatement. What it comes down to is that these men are sort of vaguely-civilzed versions of Genghis Khan, although, of course, they’re so much better-looking and phenomenal in bed and they occasionally have a thought about the idea of consent. Royce Varisey is no exception to this rule, although he’s got a good set of Daddy Issues that they don’t all have.
The women are usually feisty, or at least stubborn, and very smart and generally above polite society in so many ways. Minerva Chesterton has been running a giant duchy for quite a few years, even if most of it is managing the duke, and she is, of course, in most ways a match for Royce. But not QUITE a match: she, of course, succumbs to her charms, even though she is completely untouched and has never found a man other than him she has ever even found remotely attractive. (Did I mention that she’s known him nearly her entire life?) I should mention here that Stephanie Laurens is also guilty of the ‘virgin widow’ trope, although not in this volume. (Given, she explained it almost adequately, but still.)
I think the worst part about this is that I KEEP READING HER NOVELS. I really LIKE the Stephanie Laurens novel, since it’s the same one written over and over. My favorites — please keep in mind that I read the first eleven or so in a very short period of time, so there wasn’t the time-lapse fatigue — are the first Bar Cynster novel, Devil’s Bride, and the twelfth volume, The Truth About Love (the hero is the brother of the heroine of the second novel). What I think is so addicting about them is the level of overwrought passion, and the well-described and copious sex. It’s really a heck of a lot of fun, especially in small doses — say, two books a year.
The Bastion Club books are, in general, not as good as the Cynster books, but this is a relatively common example of Stephanie Laurens’s style and subject matter. Royce is actually a little too close to ignoring the concept of consent for my tastes; other heroes are at least more subtle about their domineering, or in the case of Devil and Honoria, better matched. The idea that one good shagging will cause a heroine to be inextricably entwined with the hero bothers me, and in this volume, it’s a bit too blatant for my tastes. Readers who loooooove alpha heroes with every ounce of their souls will find Royce quite appealing, and those who want the cap to the Bastion Club novels will definitely find closure here (even if it is a bit trivial, after all that buildup). If Devil’s Bride is a five-star Stephanie Laurens book (not an absolute five-star book; it’s maybe 3.5/5 stars overall), then this is probably more like a 3.5/5 or 4/5 star Stephanie Laurens book which — and my math is really sketchy — means it’s about a 2.75 or 3/5 star book overall. Again, though, it’s essentially a ‘if you like these, you’ll like this one’ type of book, and I do recommend it for those who are addicted. Not a good place to start, though: try the aforementioned Captain Jack’s Woman (the prelude to the Bastion Club series) or Devil’s Bride (first book in the Cynster series).