Heat Factor: I wouldn’t call it steamy, but it’s definitely not closed door.
Character Chemistry: It’s deliciously complicated.
Plot: Crispin is *the worst*. Except now he has amnesia and is nice. And also has a wife, who doesn’t seem to like him all that much?
Overall: The romance is an exceptional emotional roller coaster, but there’s some other plot that worked less well.
Just so you’re aware: the premise of this book is pretty wild.
Crispin is a ruthless, power-hungry politician. He will use any tool at his disposal—bribery, intimidation, light blackmail—to make the deals work to his advantage (both financial and political). He has no friends, only temporary allies. His motto is: “Need no one, trust no one.”
Jane is the niece of one of Crispin’s allies. She’s also a wealthy heiress whose uncle is keeping hidden away in the countryside while he figures out how to get his hands on her money. As a matter of survival, she has spent the past five years disappearing into the corners, as a proper lady should.
Of course, Crispin and Jane have crossed paths, but their relationship really begins when he discovers that she has a brain, and blackmails her into feeding him information in exchange for a blank marriage license. That way, he gets the dirt he needs, and she can escape her uncle’s home before she’s forcibly married to her toad of a cousin.
Remember: Crispin is ruthless and awful.
Except then he’s bonked on the head after sticking his nose in where he probably shouldn’t. When Jane hears that Crispin’s about to die, she writes his name on the marriage license; what better husband than a dead one?
And then he recovers. And has amnesia. And Jane is *freaking out* because she is terrified of Crispin, and what he’ll think once he knows that she’s lied to him.
So that’s the set up. Bonkers, I know.
But here’s the thing: what Duran does with their relationship is really wonderful, as they navigate their relationship and, more fundamentally, their identities and senses of self. Speaking to the amnesia plot, we have a bit of a 13 Going on 30 situation, where the last thing Crispin remembers is before the big moment where he turned all bitter and estranged from everywhere—so he has a bit of a personality transplant, and does a lot of wondering what happened to Other Crispin to make him so horrible. He therefore spends a lot of time brooding. Jane, for her part, spends a lot of time angsting about the repercussions of her lie, while also feeling really conflicted about her burgeoning feelings for New Crispin and her role as his helpmeet in navigating the political world of which he has no memory. (Spoiler alert: she’s really good at it.) I normally don’t lean into really angsty romances, but I loved the development of their relationship.
So what’s my quibble?
Well, remember how Crispin was bonked on the head? In the last tiny bit of the book, that plotline resurfaces, and culminates in the most ridiculous villain stand-off I’ve ever read in a romance novel. The only problem is that neither the villain nor even the villain’s evil plot are effectively built up to throughout the book. It makes narrative sense: for most of the book, Crispin doesn’t remember that he was even investigating something! But from a structural perspective, the resolution feels rushed.
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