Lord Ruin
by Carolyn Jewel, historical (2002)
Leisure, $5.99, ISBN 0-8439-5135-4


Fans of alpha mules may want to give Carolyn Jewel's Lord Ruin a look. I would have given this book a higher grade if I like alpha mules.

What struck me about this book is how similar my reaction to the hero Ruan, the Duke of Cynssyr or "Lord Ruin" is to my reaction to the hero in Madeline Hunter's By Arrangement. Both men are hard, stubborn idiots. I don't like them, but I cannot say that I don't find them fascinating characters. Maybe if you like the harder heroes of Karen Ranney, Christina Dodd (That Scandalous Evening comes to mind), and maybe Madeline Hunter, you can give this book a look-peek and judge for yourself when you come across it in the bookstore.

Lord Ruin isn't a perfect book, and I don't even like the main characters, but I find myself reading all the way to the last page in one sitting. After the rather overblown prose in the first chapter, the writing settles into a nice rhythm and the character study is pretty good.

There may be a small problem - at least it is for me. The heroine in this story, Anne Sinclair, seems to be in love with another man, Devon, or maybe not. This point is never made clear to me, and it weakens many of the actions and motivations of Anne and Ruan later in this story because I don't understand what Anne feels for Devon. Devon loves her, oh yes, that I can understand. Part of my regret is that this story is not about Devon and Anne's secret love. Ruan is an idiot.

Anyway, Devon loves Anne. Anne loves Devon or maybe not, I don't know. Anne is one of those ridiculously devoid of self-esteem heroines that she just cannot believe that any man will love her, and this attitude persists even to the last page, it's frustrating as hell. Ruan is the rake extraordinaire who will screw anything that moves while doubling as an Intelligence dude and Protector of Abused Women. Yes, the paradoxical characterization is lost on the author. Ruan is thinking of marrying, and gossips are that he is targeting Emily, Anne's more beautiful and lively sister.

You got that? Anne and Devon, Ruan and Emily.

Then Anne hurts her leg badly, gets high on laudanum, and those idiots put her to sleep in Ruan's bedroom. He comes in, thinks that she's his "present", and without much ado, proceeds to act as if it's his birthday. Then people come in to check on poor Anne and oops. Ding dong bell. Guess who's getting married. There is no escape, not when Anne, the super fecund brown cow, is already with child from that Special Night.

Now the stage is set for these two people, who will never even find themselves attracted to the other person in the first place, to work out a middle ground in their farce of a marriage.

Ruan and Anne could be stereotypes, but they are more complicated than that. Anne is plagued by a terminal case of self-inferiority complex, and in a way, it makes sense that she will stay with a man who doesn't treat her kindly in many scenes in this story. Any woman with a shred of self-respect would have ditched this loser and live in shame with a hot French guy in Paris. Yet she is also intelligent in that she never lets anyone else step on her. Ruan, yes, but it has been established that she finds it impossible to believe that any man would find her attractive, so she labors under this pathetic delusion that she must make him overlook her presumed inferior status by trying to cater to him as much as possible.

And Ruan, well, he's a cruel man in his own way, but while he does treat Anne badly in his thoughtlessness, he just doesn't know that he's being thoughtless. This ignorance doesn't excuse his behavior (such as stupidly meeting his ex-mistress in full view of the crowd just when Anne is trying to establish her position as his wife or his shockingly casual coercion of Anne to aid him in potentially dangerous situations in an external subplot involving several bad guys), but it makes him more of a stupid fool than a deliberately misogynistic bastard. I find it easier to accept the things he do without suffering from a stroke. There is surprising tenderness as well as irrational possessiveness and jealousy in Ruan but it's all inside him, and he doesn't show any of his feelings to Anne. And if you are hoping for a grovel to the end, don't hold your breath. This is a hard, hard man with problems in expressing himself, and Anne doesn't even make him try.

No, I don't like Anne for her willingness to settle for less and I have a hard time following Ruan, but these characters fascinate me. How can Anne be so intelligent in some things but be so shockingly obtuse in matters relating to herself? And how can Ruan be so self-aware of his own feelings but be so oblivious to matters outside of his own self-absorbed introspection? In a way, these two characters are made for each other: the Selfless Martyr and the Mr Take-It-All-From-You. They have found partners that they will be happy with and more importantly, they have found a partner that will be content with their failings when any other more well-adjusted person will balk at even spending five minutes in their company.

Poor Devon - his gallantry and genuinely tender shows of affection to dear Anne are all wasted because Anne cannot believe that he loves her. It takes a forced marriage to make this woman even open herself to a man, and even by the last page, it's a tough call if she's gotten over her presumed ugliness and worthlessness. Devon never has a chance. I am half in love with this guy, I'm ashamed to say, and I'm cheered tremendously that this author has his story in the works. I hope she gets to publish that book.

Maybe I should say something about the external plot. Okay, here's what I think: I can't make head or tail about the bankrupt villains or what they are doing in this story. Same with the men assaulting women around town thing. Is this book a sequel? If so, that may explain the subplot that seems to come dangling from another book.

Lord Ruin may have shaky plots, but I find this book a fascinating character study in Ruan and Anne and the people around them. I don't like them, but I don't hate them either, because the author succeeds in showing me why these people can make their marriage work. The character's weaknesses are exposed and the author makes no apologies about these weaknesses - you don't see anybody here cheering this couple on or telling Anne to accept her husband's nonsense no matter what. In fact, most of the secondary characters here are against the marriage, mind you!

But Ruan's real. Anne's real. There is character development, albeit one I wish would have progressed in another direction. Most importantly, it has me engaged and reading this story even when I would have cheerfully put this book down if it's written differently. It keeps me reading because I want to know really badly how this story will end and because the author's voice has hooked me in. This story can be stereotypical, its set up is stereotypical, but in the end, the characters are deeper than stereotypes.

(Oh, and the love scenes are very nice indeed.)

Lord Ruin is one of the most fascinating character-driven Regency melodrama I've read in quite a while. It's a refreshing change from the more derivative Regency era romances out there. I think this author has promise if she keeps improving on what she did in Lord Ruin.

Rating: 87


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