One thing I really like about Christine Merrill’s writing is that she’s not afraid to take risks with the Regency time period. Sometimes these risks are small little tweaks (like heroes who are lower on the aristocratic food chain) and sometimes she takes big risks – like with this, her latest Undone. Sometimes these risks work for me, and sometimes they don’t. This is an instance where it doesn’t, although good for her for going out on a limb.
Danyl Fitzhugh is English of Indian descent (that’s right folks, a hero who ain’t lily white!) and runs his own theater company. He’s also a heck of a teacher, so much so that every time he trains up a new ingenue, the chit has the audacity to run off to greener pastures. He’s so annoyed by this fact that as the latest one is leaving, he tells her he can take any common whore off the street and turn her into a theater sensation. When he finds a desperate Sarah Branford huddled in his doorway, he knows he’s found the perfect new girl. Except, of course, that there is the minor detail that Sarah isn’t really who she’s claiming to be.
This story starts off more like a Spice Briefs than an Undone, with Sarah essentially whoring herself to Danyl so she can have some funds to get a room and a meal. Naturally the passion and chemistry between them is electric and it certainly doesn’t scare Danyl off from turning her into an actress. Turns out that Sarah is a fairly competent one, having spent most of her adult life “acting” in one form or another.
This story moves along at a very satisfying clip. I love that first sex scene, the different hero, a desperate heroine with zero options, and the theater backdrop. This certainly is not run of the mill! However, it stumbles for me in the end, when Danyl learns who Sarah really is and takes steps to rescue her. The problem is the way he chooses to rescue her. Now, certainly the author is ham-stringed a bit by the time period. If this were the 21st century, Sarah would have options. But we’re talking 19th century, and sadly her options are pretty much non-existent. The way Danyl solves the issue is very premeditated, and in the end he doesn’t tell Sarah what he has done! OK, he gives her a life – but the way he chooses to do that, and then he keeps the details from her? Yeah, excuse me for not feeling all warm and fuzzy at the end.
And that’s a problem. It doesn’t leave me with that satisfied contented feeling that I like to have after finishing a romance. Yes, I “get” why Danyl does what he does – but it doesn’t mean I find it remotely “romantic.” In fact, I’m pretty sure I may be horrified. And while I think the author is really ballsy for writing this story the way she does? That doesn’t mean I really have to like it. Although I’ll be honest, I won’t be forgetting it any time soon.
Danyl Fitzhugh needs a woman. After his latest leading lady leaves both his theatre and his bed for another company, he vows to prove he can turn any woman in London into an actress–and sets his sights on Sarah Branford. He’s immediately drawn to her innocence and beauty, and their unexpected attraction soon leads to an audition for the stage and as his mistress. But with Christmas approaching and their passion growing, will their relationship last when Danyl learns Sarah is much more than she seems?