From the BLURB:
Few outsiders will ever witness the dark misdeeds of the Heavenly Host. And among this secret society, where exiled Georgian aristocrats gather to indulge their carnal desires, fewer still can match the insatiable appetite of their chief provocateur, the mysterious Viscount Rohan.
Pursuit of physical pleasure is both his preferred pastime and his most pressing urge, until he encounters the fascination of a woman who won't be swayed. And while his dark seduction appalls the pure and impoverished Elinor Harriman, she finds herself intrigued.and secretly drawn to the man behind the desire.
This is the first book in Anne Stuart’s ‘House of Rohan’ series.... and it is sublime!
Comte de Giverney is known among Paris high-society as the King of Hell. He also goes by Lord of the Underworld, Lord of the Heavenly Host and Francis Rohan. Viscount Rohan throws wild, debauched invite-only parties. Rohan opens his home for three-day-long revelries and orgies known as the ‘Heavenly Host’ where his guests ‘do what thou wilt’. These lascivious affairs are the talk of town, and have turned Rohan into a coveted legend.
Elinor Harriman leads a very different life... she is elder sister and protector of the beautiful and desirable Lydia. She is main provider for her loyal Nanny Maude and coachman, Jacobs. And Elinor is the dutiful and patient daughter to Lady Caroline, her pox-ridden poor-excuse for a mother.
It is her delirious and sickly mother who reluctantly leads Elinor to Viscount Rohan’s door-step on the night of his Heavenly revelries. When the innocent Elinor crosses Rohan’s path he is enchanted and intrigued, his interest pricked for the first time in years and now that Elinor is in his sights, Rohan has no intentions of letting her go without a fight...
I loved this book. This is my first-ever Anne Stuart novel, and I am officially converted!
Let me just start by saying that ‘Ruthless’ doesn’t have as much sex in it as you’d think, but that also won’t bother you as much as you’d imagine...
When we meet him, Viscount Rohan is a ruthless rake somewhat disenchanted with his orchestrated orgies and contrived risqué. Elinor stumbles into his life right at the moment when he is most bored and looking for a distraction.
Anne Stuart does what so few romance writers are willing to risk... and that is, write a truly devilish rake.
Viscount Rohan is not a nice man and he lives up to his ‘King of Hell’ title. He is laconic, brutally honest, egotistical and wholly consumed by his own amusements. I loved him! I mostly adored Rohan because he was so well-written and so intensely awful. Viscount Rohan is a very rare male character in historical romances – whereas most ‘rakes’ are easily cured by true love; Anne Stuart kept up his character’s pretences to the point that Rohan was a mystery unto himself. Rohan’s redemption became a suspenseful side-story that kept me guessing until the very end.
Elinor was equally wonderful and a perfect heroine for Rohan. She has had so much heartache and unfairness in her life that she could have turned into a ‘woe is me’ misery guts. But Anne Stuart has written Elinor with guts of steel and an unbreakable backbone. I adored her, and could very easily understand what Rohan found so fascinating about her;
“And I’m not particularly worried about you finding me attractive, pet.”‘Ruthless’ is really two romances in one. Rohan and Elinor are the main romantic focus, but Elinor’s little sister Lydia also gets a HEA in the form of Rohan’s scarred second-in-command, Charles Reading. The moment I read Lydia and Charles’s first encounter I thought “I hope their book is next in the series” – and then, lo and behold! Anne Stuart writes their romance alongside Rohan and Elinor’s. Lydia and Charles get less page-time and focus, but theirs is still a thrillingly sweet romance.
“Because you have no designs on my body,” Elinor supplied.
“No, sweetness. Because you’re already completey fascinated by me, and nothing’s going to change that. It doesn’t matter what I say or do. You’re trapped, like a sweet little moth in a spider web.”
“You may find you’re mistaken, my lord. You may have a wasp in your web.”
“Oh, I do hope so, child,” Rohan said, rising.
I will say that I thought there would be more smut and gratuitous sex in the book. After all, the ‘Heavenly Host’ is whispered about in equal parts reverence and disgust by several characters... but we never actually read much of the goings-on at Rohan’s estate. Anne Stuart’s lack of description about the orgies isn’t a hole in the novel; in fact the minimal explicit accounts keep things mysterious and a little bit edgy. It is up to readers (and Elinor) to let their imaginations run wild and put their heads in the gutter where the Heavenly Host is concerned...
There also isn’t much in the way of smut between Rohan and Elinor, because the romance for them is in the chase. Reading Rohan and Elinor duck and parry with one another is half the fun. And because their romance is a real ‘will they or won’t they’, as a reader you get more caught up in Rohan and Elinor’s weird courtship than their coupling. I will warn that if you are in the mood for a good steamy read, then ‘Ruthless’ is less about the release and more about the build-up. Don’t expect this to be a historical romance with light erotica; it is instead a high-brow historical romance with an intense storyline and unique romance.
My one complaint about ‘Ruthless’ is a somewhat rushed conclusion. In the last couple of chapters there is one too many happy coincidences and easy resolutions. I would have appreciated more time with Rohan and Elinor, and a slower slide into the ending... but it’s a small complaint in a whole book of wonderful.
‘Ruthless’ is brilliant. I would recommend this historical romance for lovers of the genre, as well as apprehensive readers who have been too sceptical to delve into such books. The smut is light, the characters intense and the story a real page-turner.