Connie Brockway has saved the best for last. This, the third installment of her saga of the children of Ronald Merrick, Earl of Carr, is excellent. Her tale of Lady Fia, Carr’s lovely daughter, is a compelling story of a woman who must deal with the fact that she is the child of a monster, no easy task.
For those who have not read the two previous books (and I don’t think one needs to; Brockway does a fine job of providing the backstory), Ronald Merrick has to be one of the most despicable villains ever. Marrying into the Scottish McClairen family, he betrayed them after Culloden, gaining their ancestral lands and destroying the clan. He
murdered his first wife, Janet McClairen, when she became a barrier to his ambition to return to London and did away with two subsequent wives. He treated his two sons horribly, leaving them to languish in a French prison. He wormed his way back into society through blackmail and intimidation, using his cunning to control his tools. In short, he is a complete sociopath.
Fia had been raised in the debauched atmosphere of her father’s Scottish castle, where the dissolute of English society had whored and gambled. She had been Carr’s creation, another tool for him to use to achieve his ambitions. But the young girl had seen through her father’s schemes and had tried to escape. She eloped with a wealthy Scottish merchant and for five years had lived happily at his country home, far from London
and her father’s machinations. But then her husband died, and she finds herself once more her Carr’s pawn.
Lady Fia Macfarlane is the toast of London; men vie for her favors and fight duels to defend her honor. When a young friend of Thomas Donne is seriously wounded in one such duel, he bursts into Fia’s boudoir, accusing her of selfishly trifling with the young man. Fia maintains her famous sangfroid, but she is nonetheless disturbed by the accusation and by Donne’s anger. Six years earlier, a very young Fia had known
Donne when he visited her father’s castle. She had loved him from afar, only to discover that he despised everything about the Earl of Carr and his family. Now he has reentered her life.
Donne has every reason to hate the Merricks. In truth, he is Thomas McLairen, the son of the man Carr betrayed. He spent years as a transported convict because of Carr’s acts. When he discovers that the man who saved him from this hell, his partner, James Barton, has apparently fallen under Lady Fia’s spell, he decides he has to act. So he abducts Fia. But as the cover notes, “His desire for her turned abduction into seduction.” The only question is, who is seducing whom?
I have rarely come across a more compelling heroine than Fia. She is beautiful, intelligent, enigmatic, and clever. She carries a heavy burden, her knowledge of her father’s character. How can Ronald Merrick’s daughter be a worthy person? Brockway skillfully describes her in all her strength and vulnerability. What a great character!
Thomas is her match. He has rebuilt his life and his fortune. He is brave and honorable and determined. He is attracted to Fia, but he resists that attraction. As he comes to see the real Fia, stripped of her artifice and her defenses, the attraction grows. Yet how can the laird of the McLairens marry the daughter of the clan’s greatest enemy?
How can they escape Carr’s vengeance?
The barriers to Fia’s and Thomas’ happiness are both external and internal. In the end, it is the latter that are more powerful. Fia’s distrust of her own character, her fear that deep down she is like her despicable father, pose a serious challenge to the relationship.
Brockway creates a telling portrait of mid-eighteenth century society where men and women pursue their own pleasures at a frantic pace. She offers a well-drawn cast of secondary characters who add texture to her tale. And she provides a most satisfactory conclusion as Carr’s evil past finally catches up with him. His fate is most appropriate and chilling.
The Ravishing One ultimately succeeds because of its characters. Fia and Thomas are complex and fully developed. Carr is a brilliant creation, a most memorable villain. Clearly readers who have followed the McClairen’s Isle saga will enjoy its conclusion. But any romance reader who appreciates richly textured characters who triumph over great odds to find love and happiness will want to read The Ravishing One.