The Harlot's Daughter (2007)

The Harlot's Daughter by Blythe Gifford
By Blythe Gifford

Lady Solay's eyes met those of a hard-edged man. His implacable gaze sliced through her and, for an instant, she forgot everything else. A mistake. She had no time for emotion when so much depended on her finding favor at court.

Lord Justin Lamont couldn't look away from the late king's scandalous--illegitimate--daughter. Head held high, she walked as if the court adored her. No matter the pain in her eyes, Justin resolutely snuffed out a spark of sympathy. He must guard against her bewitching charms....
It's been ages since I've been able to turn off my writer brain and simply enjoy a romance novel. Historicals are especially difficult for me to take in as a reader, because my brain is at work analyzing structure, plot, technique, word choice, and historical detail. I think I'm a naturally critical person when it comes to what I read because of how close I am to the industry. Every decision an author makes is visible.

Except when the book is really, really well written.

I met Blythe in August when I joined Chicago North. I bought my copy in October when she held a book signing at our chapter meeting, and I asked her to simply sign her name (rather than write a dedication) in case I wanted to give the book away at some future date. She obliged, the sweetie. But get your own darn copy, you hear? This one's mine!

The reading experience was transcendent in that I knew she was working some serious mojo, and I knew that if I looked hard enough I could find out how she was working it so well--but I didn't want to. I was utterly sucked into the story and taken for a lovely ride. Didn't want to stop reading. Volunteered to take the kids to tae kwon do so I could sit and turn a few more pages.

My main compliment has to do with the character of Solay. She annoyed the crap out of me for the first hundred pages. Manipulative, somewhat stupid--so it seemed. What the hell? But then Justin asked her what she wants. She couldn't come up with an answer because, for her entire life, what she wanted HAD to correspond with what was best for her family and what would keep her place at court. The heartbreak of her situation hit home, and I found a new appreciation for her resolve. Good stuff.

Justin was a quality character too, that sort of sanctimonious alpha who gradually finds shades of gray--only when the gray hits him over the head and steals the ground beneath his feet, but he finds it. Blythe handled sexual tension with acute dexterity, leading them along the path of heaving bosoms and smoldering looks until I thought they would never get together. Too bad it's a Harlequin and they couldn't do a little more getting together, but the heat was fantastic.

My only teeny, tiny gripe--and this comes after several weeks' distance--was that the ending seemed a little rushed. Justin suddenly takes up arms? Nowhere in the prose was that hinted at as an option for him or for the council. He had been posited as a man of letters and law, not a soldier, so that took me by surprise. Also, the suit about ownership of the house was hurriedly resolved in a line or two of dialogue, which seemed incongruous with the amount of time taken up by the trial preparation. But like I said, these are minor points compared to the overall novel.

Go now. Partake. You will be pleased by the attention to detail, the rich use of language, and the beautiful love story. Blythe proves that the Harlequin format, so derided for its formula and stifling reader expectations, can be taken to the realm of art. Lucky for us, she's just landed another three-book deal. That makes the fangirl in me very happy.

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