Friday, September 16, 2011

REVIEW: Never a Gentleman by Eileen Dreyer

Miss Grace Fairchild is under no illusions about her charms. Painfully plain, she is a soldier's daughter who has spent her life being useful, not learning the treacherous ways of the ton. She may have been caught in a scandal with society's favorite rogue, but how can she marry him when it means losing herself?
Diccan Hilliard doesn't know which of his enemies drugged him and dumped him in Grace's bed, but he does know the outcome. He and Grace must marry. To his surprise, a wild, heady passion flares between them. Yet Diccan is trapped in a deadly game of intrigue Grace knows nothing about. Will his lies destroy Grace just as he realizes how desperately he needs her? And how can he hope for a future with her, when an old enemy has set his murderous sights on them both?

He hides his true colors while she hides her true self. That statement alone would have gotten me to read this book right away, but as it was, back in April or something, I kept hearing about this book with many readers either abhorring "that scene" and hating the book completely, or admiring the book because of it ... I didn't want to be spoiled so I went ahead and downloaded this and read straightaway. I was so very curious to see what everyone was talking about, and I was really interested to discover also what kind of reaction it would warrant from me. And oh, my. What an experience it was.

ADDENDUM: I shared this book with someone just the other day, and I wanted to share a passage with her so I opened up the book. Somehow it just grew and grew and before we knew it, I was reading the book to her! It was my first time reading a novel out loud, and it was an awesome experience pretending to be my own version of an audiobook, but it was even more awesome to hear her gasps or sighs and other reactions. The best thing that I got from this? It's that I appreciate even more the quality of writing of Ms. Dreyer. Such a treat to read not just how a compelling love story unfolds, but to be drawn irresistibly in a different world and different time because of her stunning depiction of each character and the affecting descriptions of the world they inhibit. I found myself pausing quite a lot, even re-reading lines or whole passages, because I was so amazed at how engaged I was. It's so good to be immersed in each exact detail, to be given so much fascinating insight on Grace and Diccan's life. Soooo much love. Love, love, love!!

I'm not going to lie. This book is a difficult read for me. I don't like reading about betrayal and deception to begin with, because I can't abide by it in real life. Duplicity is the ultimate risk, and trust once broken is so, so hard to earn back. But then again .... people lie all the time. We tell others half truths, we tell them white lies, mostly it's sprung from our (misguided) love and our need to protect others. Truth hurts. But it hurts even more to know that the person we have trusted with our heart has outright lied to us.

Truth hurts, but it doesn't kill. Except maybe if you're Diccan, and you've uncovered a Plot To Kill Someone, and then suddenly the whole country's safety is at stake. As a spy masquerading as a diplomat, he takes his duty to serve his country to heart. He has been doing this for so long, pretending to be someone he's not, that he's perfected the art of Being Somebody Else. And he has been fine with living that kind of life, being known as The Perfection. Up until he got caught in a compromising situation with Grace. Now there's another person who exemplifies duty. As a soldier's daughter, she has learned to sacrifice her own desires. All her life, she has been exactly what others need her to be. She could not wait for the day when she is able to live freely and honestly, without reservation. Grace has dreamt of it for so long, and damn, she has definitely earned it. But she can't have it. Because that choice has been stripped away from her, and she finds herself obliged to Do The Right Thing once more. Diccan and Grace marry.

Truth doesn't kill, but it suffocates. Diccan does the honorable thing and marries Grace (although he bungles that up by not even asking properly in the first place). He knows that he was set up, and that he would be able to protect Grace by staying together. Maybe both of their names can be salvaged. When women get asked The Question, it usually signifies a happy start to their future, not a sad goodbye to dreams now dissolved. Grace entered this marriage with her eyes wide open and her heart already broken. Neither of them harbors the illusion that this marriage is a blessing. 

But they do their best. 

We see glimpses of who Diccan can be when not bogged down by all the secrets and lies. I think this is why I can never truly hate Diccan. Because as much as it pains me to see the repercussions of his actions are, especially towards Grace, we see how conflicted he is and how much it pains him to do the things that must be done. I think if Ms. Dreyer didn't do an exceptionally good job of showing us how this is greatly affecting Diccan as well, I wouldn't have been able to finish this book. Because truly, some of the things that Diccan does seem well and beyond redemption. To put his duty to his country over his love? Over and over again? How horrible must the choices be to choose from? And to know that each time he is hurting somebody else. Somebody who has become real to him -- a person he has come to care a great deal for. Those moments of inner conflict, when it shows he regrets his actions and that he is even disgusted with himself for putting her through so much, you get the feeling of just how unjust and cruel the fates have been to them. Because Diccan is not a detestable person. He is honorable. He is thoughtful. Protective and gentle. Despite everything he has done, he is still capable of love. 

When you're just tolerating someone, you don't really get to see them for who they are, for what they have to offer, and for who you could become because they're present in your life. But once you start caring for them, you start admiring their strengths. You start being attracted to them, not just because of their looks, but because you've seen beyond. Without even knowing, you have come to accept the person just as they are. You begin to see them in a different light, respect blossoms, and love begins to grow.

Grace may not be called beautiful, she may be too tall, she may be a cripple, and she may not know the ways of the ton, but she is not just amazing ... she is real. She is smart. She recognizes truths for what they are. She is so giving, always sharing a piece of herself. Grace is a good person; kind, decent, and loving. Just don't mistake her for weak, because when she is put to the test, her strong character, solid sense of dignity and her heart worthy of love is something remarkable. I fell in love with her. No wonder Diccan fell in love with her.

But it wasn't easy. Like I said, this was tough for me to read. It was challenging for me to finish because of how real it was for me. I don't know how many times I have picked this book up since I first read it. Sometimes I just flip to a page and start reading from there. More often than not, after doing that, I find myself going back from the beginning, completing the book. I've picked this book up when I was very upset at something. I picked it up when I was feeling much angst. I picked it up when I was feeling content. It didn't matter the mood and the time, I suppose, because always, it always feel like a rollercoaster and I'm guaranteed to feel something. 

Grace's plight was so heartbreaking. I tried to explain it to a friend once, and usually when I do something like this I like to quote (I remember words.) a passage from the book, a part of the dialogue between the characters ... I couldn't come up with one. The book was littered with those poignant moments, when we have access to Grace's penetrating thoughts and we are allowed passages to those moments of her agonizing and heartrending resolve. It felt to me as if pieces of Grace's heart were scattered in those passages, and I felt as though I was the one who has lost her heart. I had to keep reading. I wanted to know that she didn't give up so much of herself that she becomes lost in the process. I wanted to know that she's learned to not just accept things as they come, but to fight for what she wants and what she needs. I had to know that Grace makes it, dignity in tact, heart pieced back together. I had to be strong for this character, because she had to be strong. As distressed and lost and heartbroken as I was, I still couldn't help but hold on to the hope that she will be wanted and needed and loved. Such was my tenacity in believing in their Happy Ever After. 

Because Diccan and Grace, they're essentially two wounded, lovable, damaged, good people caught in the charade. Because as much as truth devastates their heart, it also ultimately frees their soul. Because everything they have been through, all the hurt, humiliation,  and anger they were subjected to only strengthened character and fortified their resolve to live the life they deserve with the person they want, and need, and love.

All I can say is that the book did not disappoint. It's a rare book nowadays that can get a reader to experience a whole gamut of feelings and emotions. Surprise, happiness, angst, loneliness, rage, betrayal, shock, confusion, heartache, concern, hope, love .... and in the kind of intensity the story and the characters compels you to feel. There are times when I was just astonished at how much one person can give and overwhelmed at just how much they can take, when I was touched by simple gestures that show their real person, when I was just tempted to close the book and walk away because of the extent of anger and hurt I was feeling at that moment, and there were times when I just wanted to hug the book so close to my chest and never let it go. 

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