Sinner's Heart
by Zoë Archer, historical/paranormal (2013)
Zebra, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-4201-2229-9


Zoë Archer's Sinner's Heart closes her Hellraisers trilogy, and I would suggest everyone new to the series to start with the first book, Devil's Kiss, before tackling this one. This is because the story in this one is basically the climax of the story arc built up in the previous two books. If you haven't read the previous two books, you may get lost when things become a free-for-all party with many characters showing up later in this story.

In fact, go read the review of that book first if you want the background information on this series. Although if you do, you may notice that my review of this book sees me saying many of the same things I said in that previous review. This book has basically the same strengths and flaws as the first book in this series.

The issue here is that the hero goes beyond the dark territory occupied normally by Anne Stuart's heroes and such. Abraham Stirling, Lord Rothwell, you see, asked and received from the Devil himself the ability to compel any woman to have sex with him. That makes him basically a walking date rape pill, so, in my opinion, this is one guy that needs some serious redemption before he can even begin to work as a romance hero.

This story, however, focuses too much instead on the climatic battle between Bram and his buddies against the Devil. If you have read my reviews of the previous books in this series, you would know that I never get this feeling that these guys are worth rooting for. They willingly accepted the Devil's gifts, had their fun, and when it's time to pay the piper, they suddenly want to banish him back into his prison? Sorry, I think on the Devil's side on this one. These overgrown boys made their beds, they may as well lie on it and think of England.

So, our walking date rape pill feels kind of sad at the start of the story because his fellow buddies are either now married and turned into the good guys, dead, or turned evil. Strangely enough, I never get this feeling that the evil one is in any way more evil than Lord "I wiggle my finger and she puts out to me right way!" Bram here. At least that guy is willing to pay his dues. Anyway, in this one, Bram finds himself allied with the ghost of Valeria Liva Corva, the very person who imprisoned the Devil and who wants to do it again.

Livia is supposed to be repenting from her own sins, but you know how the genre works sometimes: she seems goody-goody from the start in this story, so she is never convincing as someone who was once capable of darker things. Worse, she is attracted to Bram despite knowing his sins, so this is a love story where it's more like lust at first sight, the kind that compels women to write love letters to convicted rapists in prison. Oh, I'm sure criminals need love too, but I'm afraid those stories have to be very well done to win me over. And here, the romance feels more like a tacked-on excuse for sex and happy endings than anything real. She already has the hots for him, and he just have to wiggle his woo-woo to get any woman to put out against her will, so excuse me if I think he's just getting the cream for free on top of all the cakes he'd eaten in the past.

There are many dramatic things here, which may have worked for me if the original premise hadn't been cracked in the first place. I don't buy the hero's redemption (it's a standard "he was unhappy in the past, so let's put him on the woobie pedestal" material that doesn't work when paired with his date rape habit), the heroine's so-called redemption, their attraction to one another, or the fact that I should be even rooting for them to succeed.

As with Devil's Kiss, I find this an actually readable book. Its only problem is that it doesn't work for me at any level. Sinner's Heart is a brutally flawed conclusion to an ambitious but very flawed series. If only the author had created scenes of redemption that are actually equivalent to the sins of these heroes, really. Right now, these guys all get off way too lightly, especially the date rapist playing the romance hero in this story.

Rating: 66


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