Book Review: The Illicit Love of a Courtesan by Jane Lark

The Illicit Love of a Courtesan by Jane Lark
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Publisher:  HarperImpulse

Summary:  Trapped under the reign of a cruel keeper, Ellen Harding longs to be free. Under his oppression, her soul and conscience have died while her body lives on, fulfilling his dissolute desires. She is empty—a vessel—deaf to the voice of morality and blind to shame.

When her eyes are drawn to a beautiful man for no other reason than his looks, she imagines what it would be like to escape her chains for a night by giving her body to him.

But Edward Marlow is kind and gentle when he touches her, and her subconscious whispers, this man could be her salvation. Yet how can he help her when she has secrets which prevent her freedom?

Edward is restless, lonely, and a little angry with his lot in life—it is his only excuse for being drawn to another man’s mistress. The woman’s dark hair and pale eyes are striking, and he cannot take his gaze off her while she watches him over the top of a fan with an illicit intent in her eyes.

Once he’s known her, he cannot forget her, and once he’s seen the evidence of her supposed benefactor’s brutality, he wants to help her. But how can he when she will not run any more than she will speak of her past?

When a desperate Ellen finally relents and shocks Edward from his sleep, he doesn’t hesitate, he helps her flee. He just doesn’t know he’s running headlong into the secrets of her past.

I was in the mood for a light historical romance and so I jumped into this one. I enjoyed it but boy are Ellen and Edward an angsty duo. Ellen literally went from “I hope he doesn’t acknowledge me as it’ll be calamitous” to when he walks past and doesn’t acknowledge her “ OMG! I can’t believe he didn’t acknowledge me! Is he changed of heart?! Were all his words just that and not genuine affection?!” She gave me whiplash more than once with this. Actually, Edward was the perfect man for Ellen in that he was patient and exceedingly willing to always defer to her point of view and even apologize for expecting that once she’d said “You know everything”, she was still holding something back to later be revealed. This particular trait of Ellen’s wore on me but because Edward was willing to hang in there with her, I figured I’d stick it out too. Plus, there were some worthwhile interactions and situations unfolding via other characters that were quite well done.

The Forths were very likable and I was annoyed with Ellen on Julia’s behalf at their meeting. I understood Ellen’s issues but it was tiring how she constantly fell back on that to presume on others. Then again, everyone in the story understands and practically apologize to her no matter what so why shouldn’t she? Don’t misunderstand, I liked Ellen but I really wanted her to work a bit more when it was clear she’d slighted people or judged them harshly or unfairly. She was so sensitive of herself but she’s never taken to task beyond a mere mention.

I enjoyed both Richard’s and Rupert’s evolution and in both of them it seems the stage is set for their own stories. I missed John when he was gone. Pembroke was a thorough jerk and Gainsborough a complete pig (his comeuppance was particularly enjoyable, btw). I didn’t understand why Gainsborough reappears at the Forths after his previous interaction with Richard (which by Richard’s account was pretty clear about what sort of end Gainsborough would meet should he cross the Marlow’s again) but excepting that, it made for good drama. So as not to spoil a relevant plot, I will just say that I enjoyed the rest of the characters as well. For all Ellen had gone through, she really was met with overwhelming kindness and love by all but two and to be fair, she needed it.

This was angsty, fun, frustrating and never dull, culminating in a gilt framed HEA. This was a good weekend read & I’d even say it’s a good one to have on vacation.

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