I was considering ending the review there, but I can't. I have to jabber a bit. What a great reading experience this book was. Very moving, but also amusing. Held my interest the entire time.
It's the story of Luke, the Earl of Claybourne, and Catherine, daughter of the Duke of Greystone. Luke was a poor kid on the streets from the age of around six until about twelve when he killed the heir to the Earl of Claybourne. When the old earl, the victim's father, met with Luke in prison, he recognized him as his grandson. Luke said 'yup, yup, yup' to all the old man's questions and was soon spirited home to a grand title and inheritance, a bounty he definitely doesn't think he deserves. He knows he lied to the old man in order to escape hanging. No matter how badly the man he killed deserved death, the law wasn't on Luke's side and Luke's darn sure he isn't an earl.
But whether he believes it or not, our hero has inherited the earldom, is known as 'the devil earl', co-owns a gambling establishment with his best friend from his street days, Jack Dodger, and is wealthy beyond his imagination.
The story is threaded through with Dickens references. Luke and his friends grew up together in a den of child thieves run by an old rascal named, you guessed it, Feagan. As much as I thought all those references would be groan-worthy, they weren't. I quickly got used to it, especially because it wasn't something Heath was just inspired by, she meant all the references to be obvious and recognizable.
There are twists and turns to the story. It's got a lot of very dark undertones. There's back story of murder, rape, domestic violence, and overly harsh punishment for children. We aren't treated to any of that in a graphic way, but we do experience the aftermath with the characters and it's very movingly rendered.
I feel like I'm giving a lot of five-star reviews lately and gushing more than usual, but I've been picking books by authors I haven't read based on their good reviews. So, it wasn't a surprise that I liked this book. What was a surprise was how much I loved it.
Several of my friends have said it's in their TBR and I hope you all go for it.
Very glad I gave Lorraine Heath a try. I enjoyed her writing very much and found tears in my eyes on reading the final words. Definitely on my keeper shelf. :D