The Survivors series, Book 1
Heat Factor: Steamy
Character Chemistry: Opposites do attract
Plot: Dislike to love with a little adventure for good measure
Overall: Pretty fun
To refresh my memory as I embark on reviewing this series, I read this book for a second time, and I enjoyed the book both times, but the things that I didn’t love the first time were only more entrenched on the second reading.
The premise of the series is that there are 12 soldiers who went off to the Napoleonic wars and have a special bond because they managed to survive numerous suicide missions throughout the war. Thirty unwanted younger sons of aristocratic families joined Draven’s suicide troop and 12 came home with emotional and physical scars (aside from the emotional scars they already have due to being unwanted by their families).
Mr. Ewan Mostyn is the third son of the Earl of Pembroke, and he is illiterate because he has dyslexia or some similar problem with reading. Ever since he was a child, therefore, he’s been considered unintelligent and his family (but for his mother, who died when he was very young) has been ashamed of him. He’s also enormous, so not only is he perceived as unintelligent, he’s a big dumb oaf.
Lady Lorraine Caldwell is the impetuous only daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Ridlington and she has foolishly decided she’s in love with a fortune hunter who also happens to be Ewan’s cousin, so her father decides she needs a bodyguard. What she really needs is some positive attention from people who love her.
One thread running through the series is that all of the men in Draven’s troop have nicknames that pertain to their special talents. I find this obnoxious and unnecessary, but not so much that it ruins the story. It simply interrupts the flow of some moments because the dialogue seems unnatural. Ewan’s moniker in Draven’s troop is the Protector, so he has developed a niche for himself over time as the muscle in tough situations. Lorrie’s father sees Ewan in action at a club one evening and offers him a job as her bodyguard, which Ewan is not interested in until he learns that the man who’s been trying to woo Lorrie is his hated cousin Francis. Prior to the Duke offering Ewan the job, Ewan and Lorrie have a little meet cute in St. James street during which Ewan finds her to be an incomprehensible, spoiled young lady and Lorrie finds him to be a laconic Viking, so they’ve already formed some opinions about each other by the time they meet in the Duke’s study and the plot really starts rolling.
Initially, Lorrie chafes at having Ewan trailing her, but she is also attracted to and intrigued by him:
At that, the Viking laughed. It was such an unexpected thing for him to do—she hadn’t even seen him smile—that she gasped in surprise And then she had to take a very deep breath to calm the fluttering in her belly because, when the Viking smiled he was easily the most intriguing man she had ever seen.
Ewan, being more repressed, doesn’t express attraction so much as he finds himself distracted by a beautiful thing he can never have:
Ewan could never have her. She was like a pastry in a display case. He could look but not touch. Boys who couldn’t read their primers weren’t given pastries, and men who were lackwit former soldiers did not aspire to possess a duke’s daughter.
Given that Lorrie believes herself to be in love with Francis and Ewan is acting out of a combination of duty and revenge, their relationship begins with a little antagonism. Francis had told Lorrie a sob story about how his big, mean cousin had abused him growing up, coloring her view of Ewan once she learns his name. She also sees Ewan actively preventing her from meeting or speaking to his cousin, which rankles. At the same time, Ewan has behaved very honestly and honorably with her, first by not telling her father about her little mishap in St. James street and then by demonstrating with his behavior and answers to her questions that he is an incurably honest individual. Plus he’s super hot and muscled. For his part, Ewan believes that Lorrie is a little spoiled, but he also pities her naiveté where Francis is concerned.
After a very short period, Lorrie begins to value Ewan—she never sees him as unintelligent since he’s almost always able to outflank her—and being close to Ewan helps her to realize some unattractive qualities about Francis. In fact, I don’t understand why she doesn’t realize she’s not in love with Francis after Ewan catches L and F in the garden and then kisses her senseless after F scurries off and they argue about whether or not she’s really in love. If I felt like kissing a man was like pressing one’s lips to a trout, I’d keep looking:
“No, I won’t go until you answer my question. It may have been a mistake, but why did you do it? Was it really just to prove Francis’s kisses are much like pressing one’s lips to a trout, because you proved that well enough.”
But for some reason Lorrie doesn’t decide she’s not in love with Francis until she continues to spend much more time with Ewan. As she learns more about him, she develops softer feelings for him, and she appreciates that he listens to her and answers her questions.
Meanwhile, Ewan’s story centers on his insecurities stemming from his inability to read and the lack of love and support he received as a child. At about the same time he’s hired by the Duke, Ewan is summoned to his father’s house, where he learns that his father is ruined because he allowed Francis to be taken in by a con man. The only reason his father wants Ewan at this point is so he can find the con artist and beat him up to retrieve the family’s money. Rather than pursuing this course, Ewan requests all of the paperwork associated with the swindle and the mortgages and finances related to it. Of course, he can’t read it, so Francis mocks him for asking for it, and Ewan knows that while he’s good with numbers he probably won’t be able to do anything to salvage his family’s finances and why even bother since his family doesn’t even like him? But the little boy inside him still wants love and approval, so in many ways, Ewan is seeking the same sort of loving attention that Lorraine craves, he’s just become more and more reserved while Lorrie has become more and more outgoing.
Lorrie discovers that Ewan can’t read and persuades him to meet with her in her father’s library so she can teach him to read. Ewan at first agrees but is extremely resistant to trying after all of the bad experiences in his youth. Eventually, though, he asks her to help him with the financial papers since he can’t read them himself. This is where L and E really have the opportunity to fall in love, because in the library they have the one-on-one interactions that can’t occur with the protector-protectee relationship in ballrooms and theaters. The attraction is there, but the night meetings are wholesome interactions, which is satisfying in terms of the development of a meaningful relationship between the protagonists.
Of course, because it’s Shana Galen, L and E can’t just realize they’re in love and deal with the problem of overcoming Lorrie’s parents’ objection to marrying their daughter to a poor, unwanted younger son of an Earl. No indeed. We’ve got all these valiant soldiers sitting in their club, twiddling their thumbs when they could be putting their skills to good use. There has to be a little adventure, a little danger, to really get the thing done. So there is, and it’s fine, but honestly not necessary to a satisfying story. I suppose there’s just nothing like peril to really make people think about what they really want in life. And also to allow lust to finally overcome responsible self-control.
There’s a little resolution that’s quite well executed before we arrive at our happily ever after, but I won’t give away everything. All in all, the story is fun, primarily because Lorraine is willing to reach for what she wants and Ewan likes engaging with her as an equal. For example, at one point after Ewan is rejected by the Duke, Lorraine is weeping with misery, “’He doesn’t deserve me you know,’ she told the dog, stroking his soft brown ears. ‘If he won’t fight for me, he’s not worth these tears.’” But instead of leaving it at that and wallowing in her misery, Lorrie acts:
“I should forget him.” She laid her cheek on the coverlet and closed her eyes. A moment later they popped open again. “No. I should give him a piece of my mind.” She sat, and Welly bounced up too, his tail wagging. “He thinks he will just walk away? I won’t make it so easy.”
If the character chemistry hadn’t been so good, the story would have been meh. The relationship’s development was solid. Other than little “eh” moments here and there and the ridiculous nickname thing, the only thing I didn’t love about this book was that in the beginning Ewan is really pathetic. He’s illiterate, sure, and his life experience has given him dangerously low self-esteem, but he is the son of an Earl who should know how to behave in aristocratic circles even if he was unwanted and neglected as a child. Instead our first glimpses of Ewan make him seem like a bit of a dullard. He is introduced to the reader as the muscle in a gaming hell who has to evict a patron, but after he gets into a fight with the patron and his friends, he scares all the other patrons, who attempt to leave but can’t because Ewan blocks the doorway.
Ewan couldn’t do anything right. He tried to do his job as the muscle of the club, but it seemed he was always making some misstep or other.
Then he makes his way to the kitchen for supper where apparently he has no table manners:
Now he dug into his dinner. His mother would have fainted if she had seen him eating thus. But his mother was dead, and Mrs. Watkins only cared if he enjoyed her food, not if he used the correct fork or a napkin to dab his mouth.
Really? He can’t read and he has no manners? Is that necessary?
Then he goes to bed and we have a glimpse of his room: “The room, simple in purpose, was just as he liked it. Nothing to confuse or distract him.”
Does he have dyslexia or what? I’m starting to wonder if he’s got some other kind of disability. It’s not until he attends the opera with Lorrie for the first time that we have any inkling that he does know how to behave in polite company, he’s just extremely reserved.
Fortunately, this works itself out in the first two chapters, so it’s easy to leave behind, but it wasn’t a great introduction to this particular hero. Nevertheless, the story is generally pretty fun and the romance is satisfying, so I’d recommend it.
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