Book Review

Captive of Sin by Anna Campbell: A Guest Review by Jenny

B-

Title: Captive of Sin
Author: Anna Campbell
Publication Info: Avon October 2009
ISBN: 0061684287
Genre: Historical: European

Book CoverNOTE: In late August, Jenny won an ARC of Anna Campbell’s Captive of Sin from us, and we asked that she review it for us after she read it. Jenny is as thorough in her opinion as we are in ours – way to go, Jenny. What follows is her review.

Lady Charis Weston, the wealthiest heiress in England, is fleeing from her wicked stepbrothers (yes, there are wicked stepbrothers in this book). She manages to escape them one night and hides in the stables at the local inn, where she’s discovered by Sir Gideon Trevithick. Charis gives him a fake name and a lame cover story and even though he doesn’t believe a word of it, he offers her his assistance. Charis doesn’t trust him but, out of options and desperate to get out of the village before her stepbrothers find her and drag her home by her hair, she decides to use him for a ride out of town. Somehow she’ll then manage to escape from him and keep safe and out of sight for three weeks, until she turns 21 and gains control over her inheritance. As plans go it’s a poor one, but heroines in romance novels have a bad habit of plotting daring escapes from the noble hero only to end up in trouble that’s a million times worse.

In Charis’s defense, she’s had a rough few weeks and isn’t in a good position to blindly trust any man she meets—not even the tall, handsome ones. Her stepbrothers have been abusing her, trying to force her into marriage with a disgusting lecher of an earl, and as her guardians they have complete control over her under the law. She’s also so ridiculously rich that she’s afraid Gideon will lose his head when he finds out how much money’s at stake, especially since his estate is in need of some cash.

Gideon is a former spy currently lauded by society as a war hero for what he’s suffered in the line of duty. His only concern is making his way home to escape society and nurse his wounds, until he finds himself caught up in Charis’s lame escape attempts. One thing leads to another, and next thing you know they’ve entered into a marriage of convenience (yay!) on the understanding that Charis will go her own way once she’s of age.

Charis has developed quite a crush on Gideon, what with all the rescuing he does, so she quickly decides they should try to have a real marriage. Gideon likes her too, but his experiences have left him so deeply wounded that he doesn’t think he’s capable of having a successful relationship. And you know what? He was totally right. There were times, as I read this book, that I was convinced the poor man would end up locked away and Charis would find her HEA with a handsome young alienist working at the local bin. This is where Captive of Sin succeeded for me because MAN but Gideon needs to work on himself. Had he not ended up married to a beautiful virgin with a magic coochie, there would have been no hope for him at all. The descriptions of Gideon’s struggles were so gripping that at the end I was much more frightened that Gideon would backslide into insanity than that the villains would injure anyone.

Which brings me to what I found less successful—his recovery. This book didn’t feel rushed, exactly, but it was definitely thin. We don’t get much about either protagonist’s background other than the usual “I’m an orphan,” “OMG, me too!” conversation. Certainly there was nothing that indicated to me that Charis possessed the kind of skills one would need to single-handedly cure PTSD (or whatever it is—I’m not a mental health professional so can’t claim to know). Had she not been incredibly naive, I doubt she would have been willing even to tolerate his symptoms. And without going too far into Spoilertown, I have to say that I found her loss of virginity scene to be rather creepy and was amazed by how little she was affected by it.

Gideon’s mental recovery wasn’t terribly convincing, especially given how condensed the timeline is, and I wish this book were a hundred pages longer or that the scenes we’re given were a bit meatier. There’s a lot of potential for awesomeness in this book since Gideon’s particular problems are not ones that I can remember reading about in another romance: I felt sorry for him, I wondered how he’d ever recover, and I felt there were some enjoyable Beauty & the Beast elements to the story. Unfortunately, the heroine (sorry Charis!) and a lot of the plot felt generic and everything is magically resolved. We’re told again and again that Charis is richer than God, but what does that mean? How does that really affect her personality or change her daily life? Given the amount of control her stepbrothers have over her as her legal guardians, they could have seriously done some major damage to her. But conveniently enough, it seems they didn’t hit on the brilliant idea to sell her off until a couple of months before the birthday that would set her free of their control.

A longer page count would have allowed the author to go deeper with the characters and really bring them to life. Elements of this book (tortured hero who can be a bit of an ass, magic virgin heroine, purplish sex scenes) would have fit right into an old school 80s romance, but the length is straight-up modern. The one thing I miss about the old school romance is length—couples used to have some adventures, did they not?

In my mind there’s a huge pile of books I’ve read about tortured heroes, and Captive of Sin will never rise to the top of the heap. The writing is solid but other than an unfortunate use of the phrase “tumescent flesh” it wasn’t terribly memorable. I enjoyed reading this book, but when I think back on it I find myself imagining what it could have been instead of relishing what it was. I give it a B-.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Beki says:

    Wow.  And it sounds like an ambivalent B at best.  Tumescent flesh.  Hmmm….

    There DID used to be some adventure in romances, especially those big old doorstop romances with the heaving bosoms and the pirates and whatnot.  One that I love doesn’t even get the hero/heroine together at all until the last quarter inch of the three inch thick book, but it does pack in a lot of history, adventures, weird scary characters and when the HEA comes, you really feel like the H&H EARNED it. 

    The magical virginal hooha seems to be code for “cures what ails you” nowadays.

  2. 2

    If you want a hella damaged hero and a believably traumatic cherry-popping scene, I recommend Kresley Cole’s If You Deceive —at least I think it’s that one. There are two others in that series, and I may be confusing the bonking-in-a-carriage scenes, which appear in at least two of the books. All three are good and full of hulking, tormented Highlander types and feisty ladies who don’t come off too cookie-cutter. I think I remember the villains being pretty three-dimensional, too. No curative velvet love tunnels, though. Hmmm…

    Lady Charis’s Patented Braine Salve: just one application of this miracle tincture soothes your fevered humours. Do not use if seal is broken.

  3. 3
    Rebecca says:

    Ok, so I’m a history geek here, but when is this book supposed to take place?  If it’s 19th century England, why is Charis inheriting all this money anyway?  My (admittedly foggy) understanding is that primogeniture was the norm in the UK, and if she has stepbrothers (wicked or otherwise), they would be the normal heirs, unless her father(?) made a very specific will, that would probably be fairly easily challenged in court.  If her parents died intestate, the stepbrothers get the money, period, unless they’re illegitimate.  And if she is an heiress why on earth would her brothers be pressuring her to MARRY?  A married woman’s property passed solely and completely to her husband, and was under his sole control until the 1880s.  So marrying Charis off would just mean kissing all that nice money goodbye.  I’d think the evil brothers would be much more likely to keep her locked up in a tower and try to get legal guardianship so they could get the property.  As a final nitpick (courtesy of the Mikado), WAS the age of majority 21 for women?  I seem to recall something about suffrage only being extended to women over the age of 30, and I suspect that property laws had similar clauses.  Do any UK based members of the bitchery know this stuff?

    These are the sort of things that irritate me about historicals.  I don’t need to know what the heroine smelled like or whether she shaved, but if property rights are a big part of the plot, get the details right, damn it.  Laws are the EASIEST thing in the world to check, because they’re all written down and neatly enshrined as precedents.

  4. 4
    Silverflame says:

    Bravo on the review, Jenny!
    You’ve raised some great questions about the plot and the characters.  From now I pledge to trust your reviews.  Far too many guest reviews have fallen short of late. 
    You are a worthy bitch!

  5. 5
    mischief says:

    Stepbrothers would not inherit under primogeniture.  Not a penny.

    Half brothers would inherit, but not stepbrothers.

    So, since they don’t want her to marry one of them, they want to marry her to a friend who could control her inheritance.

  6. 6
    mischief says:

    Err—let me—add—half brothers would inherit from the common parent.  If her mother was an heiress, and the father was in common, she would get it even if they were her half-brothers.

    Let it be added that if it were money and not land, the will would stand up in court.  Period.

  7. 7
    DS says:

    @ Rebecca  That’s the sort of think I get caught up in a lot when reading a book.  If I start nitpicking I might as well head for my research books or Google. 

    I don’t think there is enough information in this review to make a good decision on whether the author has or has not done her research.  Under English common law unentailed property would go to the eldest son.  If no direct male heir then it would be divided amongst the daughters.  If Lady Charis’ step brothers were the children of her mother but not her father then they would have no claim on the estate. 

    Because she has a courtesy title of Lady her father must have been an Earl or of higher estate.  While theoretically some titles could possibly pass through the female, it almost never happened historically so either there was no heir or her father had substantial unentailed property that he willed to her or settled in trust for her.  Settlement was once a very popular way of providing for a female and her children while limiting what a fortune hunter could get his hands on—the income only generally, not the principal.

    The Marriage Act of 1753 made it unlawful for people under the age of 21 to contract a marriage without the consent of their parent or guardian.

  8. 8
    JennyME says:

    Sorry for not including more details about her inheritance. As I recall she’s the daughter & only heir of an earl whose estate was not entailed. My impression was that the earldom died with him but she got ALL of his stuff, although I could have that detail wrong. (It’s mentioned at some point that she’s the richest heiress in England.) 

    If she dies before she gets married, all of the riches are passed along to some random spinster cousin of hers who lives in Italy.

    After her father died she lived with a great-aunt for awhile, but then a few months before her 21st birthday she’s scooped up by the 2 wicked stepbrothers, who try to coerce her into marriage with a lech. (I think they’re heavily in debt to said lech and selling her off to him will cancel out what they owe.)

    They have some additional evil plans toward the end, but that’s the gist of it.

  9. 9
    DS says:

    Thank you Jenny for the additional information, and you couldn’t know you would fall into a nest of history geeks!  If there wasn’t anyone eligible to inherit the title then it became extinct.

    So it looks like the author has it right.

  10. 10
    Rebecca says:

    @DS and mischief…thanks for the extra information on inheritance laws.  (I always enjoy working this stuff out.  I suppose I assumed a common parent because the evil brothers are also legal guardians.  My brain fart.)  And Jenny, thanks for the extra info, which was totally unnecessary for your review—which gave an admirable sense of the book’s strengths and weaknesses which is what a review is supposed to do.

  11. 11
    mischief says:

      Under English common law unentailed property would go to the eldest son.

    Err—unless there was a will.  That’s what an entailment is for, to ensure that the possessor doesn’t leave his property where he wills.

    Witness the way the Bennetts thought they could handle the property:  if they had a son, they could break off the entail and provide for the daughters and widow that way.

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