Exceptional Tale of Love’s Triumph over Madness and Despair
What a fantastic book by Victoria Vale! I was only familiar with her work from reading The Villain Duology, which I gave a four-star review to a while back. I had a sense from that book that I would enjoy this extension of the series, but I had no idea how moved I would be by it.
Note: This book definitely needs a trigger warning. If discussion of mental illness, drug abuse, drug withdrawal, child abuse, or sexual assault trigger you in any way or make you squeamish, then you should pass on this book. That said, the author deftly handles these delicate subjects.
This is stated to be a sequel to The Villain Duology, but I think it could be read either between the two books of the duology or after. Of course, if you read it between the two books of the duology, there are spoilers in this book; this book and the second book of the duology essentially take at the same time (except for the flashbacks), so either one could be read first. But you definitely need to read the first book of the duology before either of the others, as it sets up the two main characters in this book and gives a little bit of the background of their story.
This book artfully weaves the childhood and young adult past of the two main characters along with a contemporary plot taking place in Regency England when they are adults. For most of the book, these plots weave back and forth between past and present chapter by chapter, though at a certain point it switches only to the current Regency time.
We first meet ten-year-old Niall, our hero, as he enters his earl’s home with his father so the elders can discuss a pressing issue. This is the first time young Niall has seen any place beyond a stablemaster’s cottage, and he is transfixed by the opulence he sees. He cannot resist touching one of these beautiful items in the room, and when the elders try to get his attention, the item drops and shatters. Young Neil is ashamed. As he cleans this up, he secretes a tiny, perfect, but jagged portion within his sock. This is the same time that he sees Lady Olivia (we assume) for the first time. He is transfixed with her delicate nature. The jagged piece of porcelain becomes a metaphor in the story
As the children at the manor house grow up, they become friends. Niall, Olivia, and her stepbrother Adam play together, and Olivia even teaches Niall to read when she realizes that he is illiterate. As teenagers, Olivia and Niall have an attraction both know can go nowhere due to their relative stations, but they continue to act on it when they can.
In the modern Regency part of the story, Olivia–mentally broken after her rape and time in the asylum for unwed mothers–is in the deepest throes of madness and laudanum addiction when the story begins. After deeply slashing her wrists in order to feel anything, she determines that she will get off the laudanum even though that is what quiets her nightmares. We witness her harrowing withdrawal from laudanum and even her slipping back. I am an RN, and I thought the author did an exceptional job of showing the pain of years of nightmares and laudanum withdrawal.
Our hero, Niall, is a Scot through and through. But if you’re expecting a kilt-wearing and claymore-wielding Highlander, you will be disappointed. But you shouldn’t be; Niall is an exceptional hero. Yes, he is very rough around the edges, but that is understandable given the way that he grew up. But no matter his rough edges, he loves Lady Olivia and supports her through all of her struggles with the strength and the courage a brave knight, as Lady Olivia has always called him. Lady Olivia could ask for no better man to help support her through her years of madness and despair and still give love and affection as she heals and comes out of her fog.
My only complaint, if you could call it such, is that Lady Olivia did not call Adam to heel for his treatment of Daphne. As a young woman who was ruined in the most egregious way, she would be the only one who could shame him about his actions. If he were truly a loving brother, could he subject another woman to ruin as Olivia suffered? She did think about it and even spoke briefly to Niall about it, but she never confronted Adam.
While another author might dance around the sexual aspects of the story, Victoria Vale doesn’t shy away from telling about young Niall’s and Olivia’s youthful experiences, Olivia’s rape by Lord Bertram, and Olivia’s sexual reawakening. As I was reading the book, knowing the author’s style, I wasn’t sure how she was going to approach Niall and Olivia’s the first time, but she did so with emotional honesty and restraint, creating a scene in which Niall truly shows how much he comprehends Olivia’s struggle but still follows through as a loving and respectful man.
The author did a neat-and-tidy job of tying up the various plot lines of the story, even resolving threads I hadn’t realized needed to be. With the swift succession of scenes at the end, the author leaves the story on a triumphant note, so different than when the book started.
So long as the triggers mentioned above and explicit sexual content don’t bother you, you will find this book to be an exceptional, emotional read.