John Harding is the Duke of Pembroke. Traumatized by his upbringing under his grandfather's gimlet gaze, John knows only harshness, undergirded by a deep sense of abandonment. Poor John, a product of his upbringing! Yet I cannot like him as he toys with Katherine. Katherine who is unloved, a Cinderella figure in the household into which she has been adopted. Despite that or because of that she gives all to her childhood hero, John.
Oh, she tries to hold back but she is so tempted. This is where, to me, John falls into selfish behaviour. He uses Katherine as an escape. As he admits, it was ridiculous hiding out and escaping with his oldest friend. She is not a courtesan and yet he is treating her as one.
But then John has had to fight from turning into a carbon copy of his grandfather - cold and distant. I thought his seduction of Katherine indeed showed him as just that. In this he is less than honourable, although Katherine, with stars in her eyes, is willing. Katherine wants to rescue him. In that rescue, she becomes the victim.
Katherine is illegitimate. Her mother committed suicide. Is Katherine to tread the same path? There are hints of deeper mysteries at work here. Katherine's past, John's mother, and another nasty character, Wareham the steward.
The story revolves around John finding the space to love and be loved, and about forgiveness and pride, and Katherine's role in this. I can accept that John is damaged, I can see that Katherine is a Cinderella figure, but John does try my patience. He's just so very brooding and self centred. And yes, I know the tangled trap he is placed in. Nurture versus nature etcetera, but it just takes such a jolly long time for John's nature to escape the devastating trammels of his nurturing. In the end I'm left feeling that both characters are a tad flat. Some of the minor characters such as Katherine's brother and John's stepfather exhibit a decided strength of purpose that I applauded.
A NetGalley ARC