Crimson Lace

Dove's Way

 
Swan’s Grace by Linda Francis Lee
(Ivy, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-449-00206-3
***
Sophie Wentworth is all the rage on the European music scene. Once a child prodigy, she now puts on outrageous shows, dripping in jewels and low cut gowns, playing popular pieces on her cello. She’s content enough with her life, surrounded by a rag tag entourage, and adored by concert goers. But when she receives a brief letter from her father, she doesn’t hesitate, and packs her bags for Boston.

Grayson Hawthorne is a well respected lawyer who comes from a prominent and powerful family. However, he’s made his way largely on his own, seeking the approval of his father, a cold and exacting man. He has never forgotten Sophie Wentworth, the young tomboy who tagged after him with her cello, and the undeniable look of puppy love in her eyes. Their pasts are so entwined that when Grayson decides to choose a proper 1892 Boston society wife, he chooses Sophie.

Sophie returns home from Europe only to learn that her father has sold Swan’s Grace, her own home, to Grayson! While she has never forgotten him, and is still more than half in love with him, she in enraged by her father’s actions. She had given her father control over her finances while she was in Europe only to return and find out he was selling her assets to the highest bidder. But the worst is yet to come for Sophie - what will happen when she learns that not only is her home gone, but that she is actually betrothed?

Sophie and Grayson are by far the two most tortured characters I have ever read in a romance. Sophie hides her pain under a mask of sarcasm, but she’s still a vulnerable little girl grieving over the death of her mother and the betrayal she feels over her father’s abrupt second marriage. Considered an awkward ugly duckling has a child, she yearns for society’s acceptance of her rebellious ways.

Grayson is a man who’s not only yearning for acceptance, but perfection. Pushed by his demanding father, he has spent his whole life living up to the Hawthorne name. Banished from his home at a young age, living in squalor, and clawing his way through law school, he finds himself drawn to Sophie. While he finds himself wanting her, he can’t seem to give himself over completely, fearing what might happen if he actually lost control over his own emotions.

The secondary characters fall into two categories - repressed or evil to the bone. The repressed souls include Grayson’s neglected mother and Sophie’s seemingly unfeeling father. The bad guys in this story are one dimensional, only exuding despicable behavior. What little levity there is in Swan’s Grace comes in the form of Sophie’s sarcastic comments and the appearance, albeit brief, of Grayson’s younger brother Lucas, the rake in the family.

Despite the bleakness of this tale, I do love tortured romantic couples and it’s this that kept me turning the pages. However, by the close of the last chapter I couldn’t help but walk away with a sinking feeling. I was pleased with Lee’s happily ever after, but it’s hard to feel upbeat about the couple’s future together when they are surrounded by so many miserable characters and emotional baggage. I want them to find happiness, but fear that they will face nothing but interminable battles for as long as they remain in Boston surrounded by disapproving relatives and evil villains.

Swan’s Grace is a romance for readers who like their characters tormented and brooding, their atmosphere dark. I have long counted myself among these ranks, but by the end even I was desperate for a chuckle or two. Here’s hoping that Sophie and Grayson pack their bags and board the first ship to Europe.

--Wendy Crutcher


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