When the Romance Writers of America (RWA) 2015 RITA finalists, the premier U.S. awards for the romance genre, were announced in late March I thought I would read and then review finalists for several categories. I decided to start the reviews with the self-published finalists. I have nothing but respect, and am in awe, of writers who self-publish and do it so well their work is nominated for an annual industry award. The RITA award is a way to acknowledge excellence in the romance genre by recognizing quality published romance novels and novellas. The award is named to honor RWA’s first president Rita Clay Estrada. Since I discovered the RITA finalist lists several years ago, I reliably find a good read and unknown to me authors.
The first books I downloaded from this year’s finalist list were Grace Burrowes’ finalists. Grace Burrowes has three, count them three, published works nominated for the 2015 awards. The two Historical Romances: Long, Douglas: Lord of Heartache (traditionally published, Sourcebooks, Casablanca, Deb Werksman, editor) and Worth: Lord of Reckoning (self-published) are part of the Lonely Lords Series, which is up to twelve published books. The third nomination is a contemporary novella, Kiss and Tell, which I have not read, yet.
There lies the problem…the Lonely Lord Series. So far most of the romance novels I have read since March have been about Lonely Lords. While each book is able to “stand alone” it helps to know the others for background because all of the characters interact throughout the, so-far, twelve book series. Full novels are happening while other separate novels are happening. For example, in Trenton (Book 10 of the series) events are simultaneously, but independently, happening in Darius (Book 1 and also a 2014 RITA Historical Romance: Long finalist). I now fully appreciate the duress Darius was under while he was emotionally doing the best he could in his story while dealing with all the family drama and tragedy we discover in his brother Trenton’s story. While certain events that happen in one book may be described differently in another, the difference serves the needs of that particular novel, and that is a good thing.
If you expect a linear time sequence moving from one book to the next, you will not find one. Burrowes is proving herself to be a master at plot and organization. Over the 12 book sequencing, it is best to think of how the stories are position in time as seen in Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant (2015) or Doerr’s award-winning All the Light We Cannot See (2014), but I am not sure that was Burrowes intention with the Lonely Lord Series even though that is the best description I can make among the series’ novels.
I read Douglas: Lord of Heartache first because it is Book 8 of the Series, and it was the first book in the award category listing. In synopsis, an unwed woman born a lady but with an out-of-wedlock child is the steward of one of her rich, titled cousin’s estates, and is asked to advise a Viscount Amery if a particular estate he might purchase would be profitable farm investment. To say more would be to give away the story’s intrigue. The twists and turns of this book were not expected; this is not your usual historical romance novel. Burrowes chases the female protagonist, Gwen, up a tree and throws all sorts of rocks and smelly, rotten vegetables at her. Douglas, the male lead, is also put through trials and tribulations before earning Gwen’s hand in marriage. The Windham family play a prominent role to the story, if you are familiar with in Burrowes’ Windham Series. The overall story starts out as a “seduction” narrativebut Burrowes turns that plotline/device on its head. Douglas: Lord of Heartache is a “happily ever after” story where that ending description is undisputable.
Worth: Lord of Reckoning is Book 11 of the Series. This is the better book of Burrowes’ two 2015 RITA historical long fiction finalists. In synopsis, Worth Kettering, solicitor/man-of-business for normally ignored/underserved individuals in late Regency-era London and “rake at large” visits his country estate for the first time in five years, where he meets his housekeeper, Jacaranda, and their lives become entangled, everyone has their secrets, and everyone must decide what is more important, money, family or love. Burrowes puts all her characters, primary and secondary, through hoops of fire and Jacaranda and Worth are no different. It is a true “happily-ever-after” story. Worth’s financial wellbeing is not settled until the very end, and I did not know if his finances would be successfully resolved. I think what I like about Burrowes writing, and why I am willing to read all twelve books is that she leaves you questioning if some aspect of the character’s life is going to work out for the best for the male and female heroes. Worth is better written than Douglas. Worth has better dialogue, a smoother flow, and a better first third. The Douglas story is more unconventional and daring, but not as daring as Darius (Book 1) which I think is a better book. Worth is my favorite of all twelve books.
The RITA awards will be announced July 25, 2015. Worth is an e-book, though a print copy is available through Amazon. Douglas looks to be available as a print copy or e-book pretty much everywhere. I am including links to Burrowes’ website and the RITA awards information.
Douglas: Lord of Heartache
Worth: Lord of Reckoning
For more information on 2015 RITA finalists, past winners, and the Romance Writers of America