Monday, June 7, 2010
Review: To Beguile a Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt
Helen Fitzwilliam has been mistress to the Duke of Lister since age seventeen, and they have two illegitimate children from this relationship, Abigail and Jamie. After years of living in fear, neglect and humiliation, Helen finally finds the courage to take her children and run away from the Duke. With a letter of reference, two bags of clothing, and using false identities, Helen and her children need a place to hide and find themselves in a desperate situation.
Sir Alistair Munroe, a renowned naturalist, has been residing at Castle Greaves as a recluse for five years with one servant as company. He decided to spare society the sight of his horribly scarred face after returning from a three-year journey in the Colonies where he was a victim of terrible torture during the Spinners Falls massacre. There's no question from Hoyt's physical description of Sir Alistair that he is not a sight easy to behold.
On a dark and stormy night, Helen and her children arrive at Castle Greaves in Scotland where she plans on becoming Sir Alistair Munroe's housekeeper. During their initial meeting, Helen is left speechless by Sir Alistair's appearance and rudeness. He doesn't expect anything different from her -- this beautiful woman and unsolicited housekeeper who just shows up at his doorstep. However, due to her desperate circumstances, Helen has no choice but to straighten her shoulders and go forth with her plans, if nothing else for her children's sake.
Alistair and Helen's initial interactions are both highly amusing and sad. Alistair doesn't want a housekeeper, least of all a beautiful one with children -- a lady who is obviously running away from a man and whose children are scared of his scars, an obvious reminder of what he lost. Helen doesn't really want to stay in the dirty, old castle with a beast of a man who is too uncivilized for words and scares her children. The work needed to bring everything up to acceptable standards alone is overwhelming. However she has been left with no choice and in her desperation Helen shows not only courage, but also ingenuity and perseverance. Her perseverance wins the day.
What is it about this book that I enjoyed so much? In re-reading it, I'll say that the answer to that question is that this story is about second chances.
Helen made a terrible mistake as a young woman and became mistress to the Duke of Lister. She had two children with this cold man who thinks of her and her children as no more than possessions. Yet after all those years instead of giving up on herself, she has the courage to leave and to think that she is worth more. She makes her own choices and even after she finds real love Helen stands up for what she wants. In Helen, Hoyt creates a female protagonist who erred, but who found the courage to look for that second chance at life and love.
But there's a second chance for Sir Alistair also. Alistair has no hope for a future due to the way society views his scarred face. He is lonely and has given up on having a life outside of his castle and profession. He doesn't dare hope for a family or love, but on meeting Helen, Alistair has the chance to have both and he flourishes.
I love seeing how Alistair slowly becomes less aware of his scars around Helen and the children and becomes the passionate man who needs her. The way he becomes more of a teacher and a mentor to the children, and eventually their protector, savior, hero and father figure, even though his is the face of a villain. In this story, not only do Alistair and Helen get their second chance at life, but they also provide a second chance for the children to have a family and happiness.
The outside conflicts in this story were resolved rather simply and quickly. To Beguile a Beast is mainly focused on the couple, Abigail and Jamie and everything else is really more of a background story. The Duke of Lister and his pursuit of Helen are used as a catalyst, but don't really take much page time. The ongoing mystery of who was the traitor at Spinners Falls is very much in the periphery, although there's a bit of speculation and set up at the end for the next book.
To Beguile a Beast is not a perfect book by any means. Besides the above mentioned, the secondary characters are glossed over and some of them, as in the Duke of Lister, are two-dimensional, while the main characters are well developed. However, there is something about Helen, Sir Alistair and the children that reached me the first time I read this book and during this re-read. I think it's definitely those second chances at life and love.
Genre: Historical Romance
Series: Legend of the Four Soldiers, Book 3
Release Date: May 1, 2009
Grade - Original Review: A-
Re-read Grade: B
Nath's 2010 Re-read Challenge - May Read Review