Grace Burrowes’s latest series is about three men tangled together during the Napoleonic Wars and the aftermath. These are not light reads; they are romances, yes, but they deal with trauma both at home and abroad and how the characters cope with the horrors they’ve witnessed and their new lives back home in England.
I randomly picked up an ARC of the first book of the Captive Hearts series, The Captive, a couple of months ago without knowing what the book was about. I did this pretty much only because I had heard of Grace Burrowes and thought the cover was pretty. My only exposure to her books in the past was a reading at Lady Jane’s Salon in New York during which she had her foppish English audio book reader read her book. (And let me tell you, the fastest way to get a room full of romance readers to melt into puddles is to get a foppish English man to read a romance novel. That was some smart thinking, Ms. Burrowes!)
Anyway, this was fortuitous because I loved The Captive. Loved it. It’s among the best romances I read this year. It’s emotionally complex and has compelling characters and does not make light of either characters’ trauma. The hero and heroine help each other face their demons, and they become friends before they become lovers, though there is a thread of attraction running through the whole book. It’s excellent.
The Laird is the third book in the series. The Captive is about Christian Severn, the Duke of Mercia, who was captured and tortured by the French during the war, primarily at the hands of a man we come to know as Sebastian St. Clair (the hero of book two, The Traitor). The titular laird of this third novel is Michael Brodie, a British soldier who operated sort of as a spy, working for both sides to ultimately bring information back to Wellington. He’s a highly decorated officer as a result.
Michael left home immediately after his wedding to Brenna MacLogan and is finally home after seven years at war and two years serving as Sebastian’s aide in London. He’s been largely out of touch for all those years, although in that time, his parents have died and his wife has taken over running his estate. Michael and Brenna had been engaged at a very young age and knew each other as children, but as adults, they are essentially strangers.
This book has less to do with the fallout from the war than it does with Michael adjusting to life home in Scotland and Brenna adjusting to having Michael around again. Their reconciliation is slow and cautious. They’re attracted to each other, but have a lot to overcome, primarily a childhood trauma that Brenna is still processing that, let’s say, make relations with her husband difficult for her. Michael is steady and patient, however, and the romance between them blooms in a really beautiful way. They value and respect each other.
But there’s more going on here than just that. Though Brenna has competently run the estate in Michael’s absence, its financial future is in question and many of the people who live on the land distrust Brenna because of an incident that occurred shortly after Michael’s departure. Meanwhile, there is a lot of animosity between those who live on the estate and Michael’s Uncle Angus. Michael has a hard time reconciling how every is behaving with what he knows about his estate because no one is really talking—there are a lot of buried secrets here. On top of that, Michael’s youngest sister, still a child, has come to live at the estate but is rebellious and homesick.
The tricky thing with secrets is the shame that accompanies them, which means that the drama in this story is amped up by the fact that no one will say aloud what is really happening on the estate. That’s a little bit frustrating for the reader, as there are moments when it seems the conflict would be more quickly resolved if the characters just talked to each other. Michael is in the dark about what’s really going on for most of the story, but it’s clear he’d defend Brenna to the death if she were just honest with him.
Still, over all, this is a nice, slow burn romance with enough mystery to keep your attention. I didn’t love it quite as much as I loved The Captive—which you should all seriously go read right now—but I did really enjoy it. If you like your historicals to be a little heavier, with a good side of angst, I heartily recommend the Captive Hearts series.
THE LAIRD (Captive Hearts #3) By Grace Burrowes/Sourcebooks/September 2