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Monday, March 19, 2012

Much Ado About Rogues by Kasey Michaels

Much Ado About Rogues by Kasey Michaels
Publisher: Harlequin
Genre: Action/Adventure, Historical, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (379 pgs)
Heat Level: spicy
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Meet the Blackthorn Brothers—three unrepentant scoundrels infamous for being mad, bad and perilous to love.
Who is the darkly handsome Don John "Black Jack" Blackthorn? With his air of mystery and menace, the whispers about him hint of highwayman or government agent or even dark prince. But no one knows what it is Black Jack does…or how dangerous he can truly be. Now Jack's mentor has disappeared, and Jack must track him down before it's too late. His unlikely help: the man's daughter—the very woman Jack had once wooed and betrayed.

Lady Tess Fonteneau knows more about the fine art of clandestine activities—and about the mysterious Mr. Blackthorn—than he realizes. As their journey leads them on the adventure of a lifetime, their reunion is fraught with passion, high-stakes danger and the one twist of fate Jack never saw coming….

A young man kicked out by his own mother years before grows up to save his little corner of the world in the most unlikely fashion making this story one of the best in the series. In A Midsummer Night’s Sin I had hints the hero, Jack Blackthorn, was an unusual man just by how sinister he was depicted – he always seemed to know things and appeared when and where I least expected him. Without him being some kind of superman or preternatural being, how did he DO that?

The author answered it in grand fashion with this dramatic and gut punching finale in Much Ado About Rogues. It seems it was all in his training. Jack was taught everything he knew by a master of intrigue, but to his dismay he finds out that he didn’t learn all that the old man knew. And the revelations are enough to grind molars to dust because the master is not what he led everyone to believe. That is one of the knives in the back for most of the main characters in the story. It taunts and teases the plot along bringing intrigue, suspense, high drama and action that propels the momentum at a crisp clip.

The second turn of the screw came from Jack’s own mother. And what a piece of work she is. How Ms. Michaels came up with such a twisted scenario, I’ll never know, but it works like a train wreck - I couldn’t look away. How a woman could actually think that what she did was hunky dory is beyond me. That she could blithely ignore the ramifications of her actions astounded me. She has to be the most passive aggressive non-villain there ever was but she well deserved a swift kick in the pants – er, skirts. Wait until readers get a load of this woman’s schemes and the role she actually played in the chaotic lives of the brothers Blackthorn.

Through the three books, a reader is treated to a transition, from a fairy tale that quickly turned into a nightmare by the final tale. How these remarkable men made it through with not only with their sense of self intact, but their confidence too, was a feat in and of itself. But to become some of the most honorable and amazing men of the ton even with the stigma of being born bastards, is a testimony to a father’s pure but bumbling love. It’s actually heartbreaking especially once all was revealed.

Then there is the heroine. The genius wacko is actually her father. If I thought Jack was affected by the eventual ramifications, it was even worse for Tess. Ten times worse because she lived and breathed everything her father said, absorbed everything he taught her and as far as she was concerned, he hung the moon. As the many truths bombard her like a siege, Tess is thrown into an emotional spiral. Her only anchor is the man who had spurned her love all those years ago. Only, it wasn’t a true spurning and didn’t that just make steam come out of the protagonist’s ears. Tess and Jack were actually victims. The internal conflict that besieges the heroine stems from sorting through all the lies and facing the bitter truths. I was treated to a heroine who fights, thinks, connives and manipulates with the best of them. She loves deeply and defends furiously those she cares for. She’s passionate and quick to anger but she comes across as quite rational. Jack would debate that point, however.

The emotional high stakes shoot through the roof when Jack finds out there's another innocent victim about to be made a pawn. And at that point, I was treated to Jack the manly man. Everything he ran from, or didn’t believe in stood facing him and he had to make a choice and I positively swooned from the sweetness of it. It was pivotal, crucial and presented the possibility of a second chance. Jack Blackthorn is not a fool. He took that second chance with both hands, and messed up. He’s human, he’s quietly emotional and he’s realizing that if things weren’t as they seemed with Tess, where else in his life wasn’t as he thought? His search for the truth was another sizzling plot thread that kept me on the edge of my seat. How was the hero going to solve the puzzle? Was he really going to go home? What did his father want to say to him? And who is his father? Those are just some of the questions that the author dangled in front of me like a fat and juicy carrot throughout most of the story and they were quite effective. The answers were well worth the journey. It’s quite exciting!

Of course, what’s a romance without a little physical get together between the hero and heroine, right? Ms. Michaels didn’t disappoint. Those scenes were delicious, emotion driven and well written. The best thing was their growth. Through dialogue and revisiting memories of the past, I understood Tess and Jake’s previous relationship and it was volatile. In the present, it is no less dynamic but it has a richer tone with deeper meaning and a more mature emotional level. I liked seeing the transition and it made reading those scenes a pleasure.

As I’ve come to expect from Ms. Michaels, her protagonists are well rounded with fascinating dialogue that informs and entertains, there are red herring secondary characters and some bits of humor to keep the story from getting too dark. Much Ado About Rogues is a thrilling adventure of romance, intrigue and human quirkiness. I will miss the Blackthorn brothers because of how they bucked the odds and refused to fill the roles society set for them. That and their crazy mother. They are wonderful men who have found amazing women to stand at their sides and the author saved the best for last, Jack and Tess. Of any of them, these two lost souls deserved the wonderful happily ever after they eventually get and I couldn’t be happier. This was an awesome read.