The Historical Romance genre paired with the theme of gambling was too good to miss. Put that with this line up of writers and…be still my book-loving heart, I’m all in.
As this is an anthology, I’d like to touch on each story individually so I’ll arrange things in mini reviews that I’ll break up in a few post segments. I’ll be reading it out of order, but these novellas can be. Some are loosely connected to existing series and others are entirely standalone.
Redeemed by Molly O’Keefe 5 stars
Two very broken people, a former spy and a former army surgeon, who have been beaten down by life have a chance at redemption. James has buried the pain and loss of his soul in an addiction, has hit rock bottom. He was practicing medicine, but now he has walked away from even that after he almost got his best friend killed because he was lost to his drug instead of doing his job. He pushes everyone away preferring oblivion to feeling. But then something inside him rises up to meet one last challenge with one look at the enslaved woman who is tortured each night she is forced to perform for her cruel captor in the whore houses and gambling saloons around the country. James can’t save himself, but maybe he can save Helen. And Helen? Indomitable even after she has been stripped of everything she holds dear even her pride after the extent of the work she and her mother did in the war effort against the south was known to the man who wants revenge. He wants to break her, but she holds on. She gave up hope of freedom long ago, but James is dangerous to her because she desperately wants to believe he can free her though she knows he cannot.
I cannot express just how moving and intense this novella was. From the beginning, the reader is drowning in the feels and wants so badly for these two people who have hit the bottom to get a break and have a chance at even a little happiness. The author addressed the horrors of war for the survivors and provides a villain that is so cloyingly evil that death is not good enough. And the denouement after the climax of this story was no less easy than what came before. No. This is not easy, but it is so worth it.
Gideon and the Den of Thieves by Joanna Bourne 5 Stars
Intriguing story set in a thief lord’s empire of London in Georgian times. The heroine is an indentured woman to the King of Thieves, the enigmatic and diabolical Lazarus. Aimee appraises the stolen treasures and does her best to protect her friends in the band of thieves while dreaming of freedom. Into her shadowy world steps dangerous, lethal Gideon who is there to free his sister from Lazarus. A cunning, complex game is afoot and all of them are pawns of Lazarus, but Aimee needs to keep the potentially volatile Gideon from having it all explode in their faces and keep herself from making a mistake when it comes to the strong attractive man who makes her feel safe.
This was a fascinating and deep story. If you like shades of gray and peeling back a story layer by layer, here you go. I can’t say what I enjoyed the most whether it was the complex characters or the complexities of the plot. I am doubly amazed since it was all told in the length of a novella. Romance is my thing, but this story was so much more than that and the romance was possibly the weakest element. Personally, I felt I got the best pirate story that had no real pirates in it. And apparently this novella is set in the Spymaster world of the author’s novels so I can encounter many of these intriguing characters again if it is my want.
So, these were actually the last two stories in the anthology. They were unputdownable, edgy, and full of atmosphere. The gambling theme that both portrayed took on deeper nuances than just people playing for money. I loved it and I can’t wait to see what the other authors have in store.
These are definitely for the historical romance lover who wants to trod down darker paths and away from the bright lights of the ballroom. These characters and their situations are not easy, but the reader will be pulled in and vested in their lives. Take the gamble, you’ll be happy you did.
My thanks to Molly O’Keefe for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.