Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
When this series was re-released by Joanna Chambers, I jumped at the chance to review them. I read them initially a few years ago, and I remember that I thought this first book was only OK, although I ended up absolutely loving the rest of the series. Rereading it, and knowing some of what was coming next, made me notice all of the ways the rest of the story arc was being set up in this book, that was not clear to me the first time around, and I have to say I enjoyed this book so much more for it!
The series starts with Provoked, told from the viewpoint of David Lauriston, in 1820s Edinburg, Scotland. David is an advocate, a lawyer who deals with court cases, and at the beginning of the book he had just defended two men who were convicted of treason, hanged, and beheaded. The case touched him deeply, as in its most basic form it represented the class struggle that was spreading widely throughout Britain during the Industrial Revolution. David was the son of a farmer, and he and his family worked and sacrificed so that he could become educated as an advocate – though he could speak and act as a member of the middle class, he identified with the lower class. Although the conviction for treason was almost a foregone conclusion, it was clear that the men were incited and betrayed by an agent provocateur – who got away scot free.
While David was working on getting drunk the night of the hangings, he met Murdo Balfour. There was an instant physical attraction between the two men, and although David had consistently tried to deny that part of himself that wanted other men, he gave in because he needed the escape, and both men knew they wouldn’t meet again. David was a little surprised to find Balfour giving him a tenderness and connection that he had never encountered with a man before, and for the first time he felt regret upon walking away.
Weeks later, David was approached by Euan MacLennan, a man whose brother had also been involved in the case of treason, although his sentence was transport to the prison colonies in Australia rather than hanging. Euan was determined to find Robert Lees, the agent provocateur he felt was responsible for leading the entire group of weavers into treason, and had a lead that brought him to Edinburg, but he needed David’s assistance to follow it. David was absolutely opposed to revenge, but he felt responsible for Euan because he was unable to prevent his brother’s conviction, and he reluctantly agreed to help.
When the clues pointed to Lord Balfour, David was caught between his promise to Euan, and his growing certainty that Murdo was innocent.
This book really hit all of my buttons – the characters were complex, and faced with situations that challenged their beliefs. The search for Lees really was only a backdrop to highlight the interaction and growing attraction between David and Murdo. David had a very strict and upright moral code, was honest to a fault, but was generous and had a tendency to take on too much responsibility for all the wrongs he saw in the world. He felt his attraction to men was not only wrong, but damning, and castigated himself every time he gave into temptation. He didn’t know how to react to Murdo, who felt no shame at all in being with men, and seemed as helplessly drawn to David as David was to him. Murdo’s point of view was not presented at all, but his responses and reactions to situations indicated a growing fascination with David and his opposing principles.
So even though I know what is coming – although I’ve forgotten many details – I can’t wait to dive into the next book. I can’t wait to hear what Murdo thinks, and how the men will come together again!
I could not find who created the cover art, but it was perfect. Granted, David is a red-head, but this model was ideal both in looks and expression, and is now how I think of him. This cover is much improved over the previous one!