One of my friends recently read this book and really liked it, so it became one of the next ones on my reading list! Luckily the library had it available, so I was able to get to it quickly. The story here follows Gisele, a woman who faked her own death to escape an abusive relationship and now works to spirit other women out of similar circumstances. Deprived of one of her partners, she's on the hunt for a new one. A man who can be a hero. Gallant, who's up for helping a woman in distress, who can sweep her off her feet... When she finds Jaime Montcrief drunk in a tavern, he doesn't seem like the very picture of that, but after a quick test, she decides he suits. And so off they go, to save the woman who's set to marry Gisele's former husband.
While this was a cute plot in some respects, the takedown of Gisele's former husband ultimately relies very very heavily on gaslighting him. This is portrayed as being so clever; they're going to make him crazy so that he can't get married! Ha! Gisele also tries to justify it by saying he's already mad as a hatter, he just needs something to bring it out where other people can see. But the thing is...Adam, said former husband, doesn't really come across as crazy. Possessive as hell, yes. Sadistic, yes. Unsuitable for marriage, yes. But actually mentally unstable? No. Gisele and Jaime actually set out to convince him he's crazy and to make him display it in public, and the entire time they were working on this, I couldn't help but think that if some roles had been reversed and they'd been gaslighting Jaime's former wife instead of Gisele's former husband, this wouldn't have slid by nearly as easily. And when you flip the genders and you have an issue...well, that's an issue in and of itself.
What I did like here was the relationship between Jaime and Gisele. Jaime doesn't pressure Gisele into anything even though he falls for her--and she for him--in pretty quick order, within the space of a few days. He knows that she was abused, but he doesn't pressure her for the details. He doesn't try to pressure her into kissing him or otherwise being intimate with him. He doesn't try to "fix" her. Instead, he lets her come to things on her own terms and supports her in her decisions. Even when he disagrees with them, he hears her out and then makes suggestions for how to proceed safely, instead of taking what would be the route of some other popular romance heroes and locking her up or going off to solve things on his own without any communication. Their dynamic was very good.
Another thing that I really liked here was the use of parallels. There are so many instances in this book where Bowen brings back something mentioned earlier and makes a parallel scene out of it, tying together both visuals and themes to loop everything together. This was very masterfully done, and I really appreciated it.
The writing was good and I liked the characters, and I'm definitely not writing off Bowen. But I think the plot here needs to be looked at critically, because gaslighting anyone is not cool. There had to have been other ways to resolve the problem here without making Adam question his own sanity.
Also, this looks like a Christmas romance, but it's not--I'm not even sure it actually takes place in winter--and has nothing to do with any dukes keeping anyone warm, so I'm not sure where the title and cover are supposed to play into this, at all.
3 stars out of 5.