Review: Invitation to Ruin by Bronwen Evans

Wednesday, April 13

Title:  Invitation to Ruin*
Author: Bronwen Evans
Series:  Invitiation To... book #1
Genre: Historical Romance
Publisher: Kensington Brava
Format: Trade sized paperback & digital e-book
Date/Year:  March 2011
Reviewed by:  Booklover1335

*This book was provided to me by the author for review

Summary from the publisher:

One Good Lady Is About to Go Bad…

The only thing Miss Melissa Goodly has ever wanted out of a marriage is love. But any hope of that dissolves one wild night, when she loses herself in the arms of the most irresistible—and unobtainable—man in all of England. For when they are discovered in a position as compromising as it is pleasurable, she has no choice but to accept his proposal.

Avowed bachelor Anthony Craven, Earl of Wickham, never meant to seduce an innocent like Melissa. Yet now that the damage is done, it does seem like she’d make a very convenient wife. After all, she is so naive he won’t have to worry about ever being tempted. Or so he thinks, until the vows are spoken and they are left alone—and his new bride reveals a streak just as brazen and unrestrained as his own…

My Musings:

Invitation to Ruin is the courageous historical romance debut novel by author Bronwen Evans.  Courageous you say?  It may seem odd to say that when referring to the author instead of the characters in the story, but I think the author took a few risks, that are often taboo, when writing this book.  I think the author was very brave when deciding to include things like England’s slave trade market at the time the book is set, and a scene involving an unconscious seduction that some reviewers have suggested is no less than rape (which I don’t necessarily agree with...I’ll explain later).

Our heroine, Melissa Goodly is sister to a Baron who has led their family to financial ruin because of his dissolute lifestyle and sees his sister as his answer to their lack of funds.  She is poor, with little choice as to her fate.  Her brother is willing to make a match for her with anyone that has a fortune, no matter the man’s age or character, he will be least as long as the coffers are full.  She is in essence a slave to her brother’s depravity and greed and will be “sold” through marriage to the highest bidder.  Melissa is not opposed to marriage, but dreams of marrying for love, much to her brother’s disgust.  She is exactly like her name conveys.  Miss Goodly is a good person;  an altruistic idealist who is willing to wait for love, and does what is within her power to make the world around her a better place.  She is a true and devoted friend, honest, and fights in her own small way against the evils of the slave trade in England by protesting the sales, and when funds allow purchasing slaves, setting them free, and finding them work for paying wages.

Our hero, Anthony Craven, is on the surface, the complete opposite of our heroine.  He is rich, titled and a man who appears in control of his destiny.  Yet, he is haunted by his past, and bases his future on what he feels he deserves...which is a life devoid of love and compassion, alienating anyone his family and anyone that he could potentially develop feelings for, and instead pursues only pleasure as one of London’s most infamous rakes.  He was raised by a ruthless slave trader father who took every opportunity to beat (literally and figuratively) just about every compassionate emotion from him, including love, from his son.  So that what is left is a man who feels nothing but disgust and hatred for his father and for the man he was forced to become because of his upbringing.  He was a slave to his father’s upbringing through emotional blackmailing and physical punishment...much like the actual slaves his father traded upon to make his fortune.  Though he has long since abandoned the slave trading empire he was raised to run, he still feels the taint on his soul.

I have to admit that before receiving this book for review, I had read a few other reviews that were quite scathing in it’s criticism of this story specifically because of one scene.  The scene in which Anthony and Melissa find themselves in a compromising situation which forces them to marry.  It’s an important scene, so I am going to break one of my rules of  trying to not include spoilers in my review of a book so that I can try to explain my view of what happens.  It begins with Anthony and his twin brother, Richard, making a wager on who can get Lady Cassandra (Melissa’s cousin who she happens to resemble) into bed first.  Anthony has been pursuing Lady Cassandra and has just received his first invitation to her bed.  He and his family are residing in her London home because a fire in his own home that has caused them to seek residence elsewhere for a short period of time, where it just so happens that Melissa and her brother are also staying since her cousin is sponsoring her introduction and debut into London society.   Anthony’s brother  cheekily professes that he will have Lady Cassandra before they retire to their rooms, and to give his brother a sporting chance gives Anthony the directions to Lady Cassandra’s bedchamber.

However, Anthony’s brother knowingly gives him the wrong information because he believes that Miss Goodly is exactly the type of woman that can save his brother from his lonely existence and self destruction.  Richard orchestrates both Anthony and Melissa’s downfall because he truly believes they are a perfect match.   Anthony enters the darkened chamber and begins to make love to the woman he believes is Lady Cassandra.  He doesn’t realize the woman that he is with is not who he thinks it is until he enters her and discovers that the woman he is having sex with is a virgin, not an experienced widow.  Up until this point Melissa is having what she things is a very passionate dream with the man she has secretly drooled over, the Lord of Wicked, Anthony Craven, and is thoroughly enjoying herself until she shockingly wakes to find herself in bed with a man and consequently ruined.   Does she scream and protest?  Not really, and a few reviewers have questioned this response as being unrealistic.  However, I think it is important to remember that she is with the man of her dreams...literally, is slightly tipsy, and is confused as to how this all happened. She is ashamed by her passion and what he must think of her....because up until this point she hasn’t acted like an innocent virgin even though she thought it was just a dream.   She panics, becomes afraid, and does ask him to stop.  And this is where the situation gets tricky.  Does he stop when he realizes his mistake?  Not exactly.  He pauses, then finishes (within seconds), then rolls away in disgust.  Melissa believes he is disgusted by her and her responses to him, but later we find that he is in fact disgusted by himself and a past event that directly relates to this event.

Is it consensual when she is unconscious, but her body is willing?  I don’t know.   Is it rape when he doesn’t immediately withdraw even though she has asked him to?   I don’t know.  This is a very gray murky area, but given the context of the entire story I don’t believe it is, and this is why.  In her dreams Melissa is making love to Anthony, not some unknown lover.  And, and this is what I feel is most important, is Anthony’s intent in this scene.  Does he knowingly enter Melissa’s room and make love to her?  No.  He believes he is with Cassandra.  Does he force her?  No, not really.  Melissa is an active participant even if it is in her dreams.  Was it his intention to harm her?  No. Was it written in a way that was demeaning and degrading to Melissa?  No, it was written with passion, but also leaves the reader to question the motives and actions of the characters which lets the plot of the rest of the story unfold.  And that is where I think the difference lies.  If you take the scene out of context it doesn’t look good, and some reviewers stopped reading the book after this scene, which doesn’t give the characters and their story a chance to redeem themselves.  I have to admit, that I didn’t immediately think “rape” when I read the scene in question.  I didn’t think it read that way, but I can certainly understand why some might come to that conclusion.  I don’t know the authors intent, but given the hero’s history it seems to me that it was deliberately written in a way that could call Anthony’s actions into question.  I hate to say more than that because it directly relates to a long held secret to his past that shapes the man he becomes.

Now that I’ve expressed my feelings of “The Scene” here are some thoughts on the rest of the book.  I thought the author did an excellent job of expressing who Melissa and Anthony were not only to the reader...but to each other.  Misunderstanding and misinterpretations are very common in romance, but in Invitation to Ruin, those are not left to fester until the end where there is a huge “aha” moment where one, or the other realizes how wrong they were about the other person.  Situations do arise between the two..after all Melissa finds the good in everyone, whereas Anthony assumes the worst in people, but they are resolved throughout the story which I liked because you could see how they got to know each other in such a short period of time, and how passionately they both felt about abolishing slavery in England.

The emotions in Invitation to Ruin were passionate and sometimes dark, with despair and hurt.  The hero did many things to drive his heroine away, but she persisted in her pursuit of a good marriage...not only because it was her only option to have the kind of marriage that she dreamed about, but she found things in Anthony that were redeemable.  Melissa could easily have assumed the role as a doormat for punishment, but she doesn’t come across that way.  Instead she has spunk, and when she get’s knocked down (not literally) or begins to doubt herself, she picks herself up and forms a plan to gain what she wants.  While the marriage is forced upon her, and she doesn’t like how it all came to pass, Anthony is the man she dreamed of having for a husband.  Some would say it is a perfect example of the saying “be careful what you wish for, because you might just get it”.  This story explores that and more.

One thing that was a bit bothersome for me were the characters name.  Normally, I don’t really mind names that authors choose for their characters, but I found the hero and heroines names to be too cliché.  For instance the heroines name Miss Goodly...I don’t think her name needed to be “good” for her to evoke goodness....and the hero Craven....I think you can see where I am going with this.  For me having names that obvious, kind of cheapened who they were.

I wish that the author would have done more with Melissa’s character in regards to the anti slavery society that she was President of.  As President of the movement I would have expected her to be more involved, but her involvement in the group was a very small part of the book.  It made her sympathetic to Anthony and his experiences growing up, but I expected more than that from her, and I think could have made the confrontation with the villain better.  I wanted her to be more than just a “wife” once she was married, since she had that freedom as a “sister”.   I also didn’t think Melissa’s cousin Lady Cassandra received due justice for her spitefulness and deviousness.  She was a very selfish person who wanted Melissa sold into white slavery for snatching the Lord of Wicked out of her clutches.   I wanted to her to really get what was coming to her, but I didn’t feel that happened which was sort of a let down.

Overall though, I really enjoyed Invitation to Ruin and thought it was well written.  I wanted Melissa to keep trying to get the marriage that she deserved, while at the same time wanting Anthony to give in to his desires.  That their passion for each other is what will gain each of them all that they have ever dreamed of and more.  There are a few things about the plot that didn’t work for me, but “The Scene” wasn’t one of them.  I think this story is very courageous in some of the risks it takes, especially for a debut author, and I think this will be either a love it, or hate it type of book for readers.  Invitation to Ruin may be the title, but for me it was an invitation to a few hours of engaging and emotional romance reading enjoyment.


Overall:  4.25
Sensuality level:  3.25 (Usually I expect more heat from a Brava romance, but this story is all about the sexual tension between the H/h and has only a few loves scenes, one of which is brief)

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JenM April 13, 2011 at 10:45 PM  

Thanks for your review. I've been on the fence about this one. I love angst, and it sounds like this one's got that, but then I read all the negatives and I wasn't sure. It's too expensive for me right now anyway, but I'll throw it back on the wishlist.

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