Monday, November 12, 2012

New Review: Iris Johansen's THE BELOVED SCOUNDREL - 19th Century Balkan Romance a Great One!

I first discovered Iris Johansen when I read The Magnificent Rogue--a truly excellent historical romance. I then read Midnight Warrior that didn't reach that standard (and reviewed it as such). So, while I don't always give her 5 stars, I did on this one. I thought it was excellent.

Set in the years 1809 to 1812 in the Barkans and England, it tells the story of Marianna Sanders who is from a family in which the women for generations have preserved the fine are of stained glass that captures the sun and the heart. Her grandmother's stained glass windows graced some of the most beautiful chapels in Eastern Europe. Her mother was gifted as well and Marianna's early talent portends greatness. Born to loving parents, at 16, the young fair haired beauty and her 4 year old brother Alex are orphaned when her mother is killed by the evil Duke of Nebrov who wanted the secret of the Jedalar, a map contained within the Window to Heaven, a large stained glass window that graced the church in Montavia her native country in the Balkans. Alone and starving, Marianna and Alex go to the church only to find the precious window shattered by Nebrov's attack.

There in the church she encounters Jordan Draken the English Duke of Cambaron who has mysterious ties to the Balkans and has come to the church hoping to obtain the window. When he realizes who Marianna is, he lures her to his camp and decides to take her to England. Jordan desires Marianna not only for her ability to recreate the Window to Heaven and give him the Jedalar, but also because he is wildly attracted to the intelligent and beautiful young woman who beats him at chess and banters with him, unlike the boring women he has often had in his bed.

Hunted by Nebrov and pursued by Jordan, Marianna has to survive on her wits and her talents--and she does.

I liked the characters and thought Johansen did a masterful job of developing them. Jordan was a man who, like his father before him, engaged in a life of debauchery until he found a greater purpose in saving a Balkan kingdom from Napoleon. Marianna was an amazing girl and then a young woman who had incredible strength of character. She was courageous, unselfish, caring and committed to the promise she had made to her mother concerning the Jedalar.

The love between Marianna and Jordan grows slowly and each hides that truth deep inside even as they cannot deny the passion raging between them. There is a wonderful side story of the love between the good Gregor and a woman named Ana that adds a richness to the ending. The historical times are well portrayed and the action flowed continually.

It was a page turner and held my interest as so many of Johansen's novels do. I recommend it.

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