My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
Wendy LaCapra’s debut release Lady Vice, book 1 of the Furies series, brings forth a breath of fresh air into the arena of historical romance. It had an interesting, even unique, storyline with characters that I greatly admired. Very early in the story, I also noticed that the author has a way with words, which was marvelous. The premise of a second chance romance was another highlight, so in short, I had a grand time! Without further adieu, let’s get to the review...
In Greek and Roman mythology, the Furies were female spirits of justice and vengeance. But in Lady Vice, the Furies are a group of 3 ladies, widowed and married yet estranged from their husbands, both; who have formed an unlikely friendship and are sworn to protect each-other. These ladies have fallen on hard times due to some injustice done to them, yet resolving to earn their living. And for that, they can’t afford to play by the rules. At that time, if an estranged lady didn’t have an allowance for an income, she had little or no way to earn money but discreetly bartering of her <i>favor</i> to her gentleman friends. Some weren’t even that lucky, and would get embroiled in scandals beyond hope. But these ladies- Lavinia or Lady Vaile, Lady Sophia and the Duchess of Wynchester, Thea, have put all their resources together to earn their living by opening a gambling club, where they went by as Lady Vice, Lady Scandal and Duchess Decadence. The events are hosted at Lady Sophia’s grand estate. In time, the club gained enough popularity with the rakes and gentlemen of the Ton alike, giving the ladies a strong financial backbone, though not without a scandalous reputation.
On a day that had the look to be a successful one, Lavinia aka Lady Vice, was playing with one of the patrons when someone from her past returns to haunt her. Max Harrison, her ex-fiancé, the man who left her to improve his financial position on a ship bound to India. The man, because of whom, she was forced to marry Lord Vaile and hasn’t been the same innocent girl of her youth in more ways than one. We don’t know the amount of psychological abuse Lavinia went through until a bit later, though there aren’t any details about any of the encounters; just a hint or a line here and there to give you an idea. Thankfully, she found kindred spirits in Thea and Sophia, who helped her when she had no one to turn to. And now, Max is here. Unfortunately, he is also the bearer of a grim news; that Vaile had been murdered in his bed just that evening.
Lavinia has heard bits and pieces about Max over the years but she had hardened her heart long ago. Now there’s nothing left of anything called a ‘heart’ in her. So when Max becomes adamant to protect her from all the fingers that’d be pointing at her now that Vaile is dead, she’s confused about the pull she’s still feeling at the sight of him, his voice... even a hastily shared kiss in the throes of shock. It seemed such a long time since they’d shared one. Max confirms that he’s heard of the rumors about Lavinia threatening Vaile, which makes it easier to condemn her, while Lavinia wages a war within herself to quell that intense attraction that obviously hadn’t died down in the intervening years. And so, she rejects Max’s offer of help. She immediately knew that no one can hurt more than Max. He held the power, and maybe, still held her heart in the palm of his hands. She had to avoid getting entangled with him at all cost.
But Max isn’t going to let her go so easily. He’d been through too many nightmares in that hellish Indian prison to give up; tortured, starved at the point of perishing before his rescue and subsequent return to England. He had no hope of having Lavinia in his life again, but now that he has an opportunity to prove his love all over again, he’s not going to lose it. Either way, when Lavinia is in danger, Max would never stay back and let her suffer. She’d always been the love of his life, though fate had played its cruel part to keep them apart. It hurt him when she got married but he was in no position to return from the hell he’d created for himself by taking on the challenge Lavinia’s wealthy father threw his way- when he asked him what can he, someone with no better prospect in life, give his only daughter to keep her in style? In the life of luxury she’s used to?
Though we don’t get any detailed narratives of what happened to Max in India, we’re told that he served as a judge there. It was also the reason why I picked up this book; a hero who isn’t a peer of the realm. Max was imprisoned along with several Englishmen, including the heir of the Duke of Wynchester, Eustace, who was then brutally murdered by a man named Kasai (or the Butcher) and his gang of degenerate mercenaries. With that experience, Max, a veritable gentleman, was changed forever. His time in prison gave rise to this ‘beast’, as Max refers to it throughout the story, what I assumed to be a wild, brutal temperament so unlike himself. Max has tried to contain this side of himself ever since his return. But with Lavinia in imminent danger, he’s having even harder time to cope with his inner beast. Sadly, Lavinia never knew of the reasons why he had to leave her in search of his own place in this world, something that obviously is the cause of all her distrust in him. But Max won’t give up. He’s a man sworn to protect his lady love, even if she doesn’t seem so inclined.
Thea, the Duchess, was instantly distrustful of Max since he’s currently working for the Duke, her husband. The current Duke became heir apparent after Eustace’s death. For some reasons, a few years after the marriage, things have gone downhill between them, which is why Thea left him too. Yet when you read them together in their scenes, you’ll find that Wynchester is superbly possessive of Thea, though not in creepy way. He’s obviously still madly in love, and while she’s trying to avoid him, showing that she doesn’t care, Thea most assuredly feels more than she lets on. Sophia is a widow and has her name entangled with the rakish Lord Randolph, who is one of the patrons and is a regular to their unusual gambling den. Everyone knows there’s something going on between them but Sophia wouldn’t confirm or deny the rumor. She proves to be the one with the strongest character and a prompt mind, who knows how to read people. From the beginning, she felt that Max’s intentions were very genuine. And thus he found an ally in her, though not without a threat should he harm Lavinia in his quest to win her over.
It was also on Sophia’s encouragement that Lavinia finally decides to listen to Max. After all, he is a former judge and would be able to advise her on the next steps to help herself out of this mess. Already Lord Montechurch, or Monte, a cousin of Vaile’s, had come and threatened her, condemning her as the murderess. If anyone knew Monte better than Vaile, it’d be Lavinia. Then, we’re introduced to Vaile’s world of perversion. He loved being watched while having sex, nothing else would turn him on. Because she had to be the ‘dutiful wife’, who must also bear his heir, Lavinia was somewhat forced into performing for Vaile in his home and at a brothel, which ironically, was also owned by Monte. Monte, who loved watching them in the act. Lavinia had to go through it all by herself because she had no other help. The innocent girl died the day she got married, and a jaded, disillusioned woman was born. She had never conceived, so Lavinia was made to perform, until the day she took a gun after Vaile suggested something more twisted, threatened him and ran. Besides, she couldn’t very well confide in anyone else about her husband’s perversions. She’s still freakin’ paying the madam of the brothel so that the mean and overused hag won’t spill her secret to the world. And we all know what’d happen if the ‘world’ per say, learns about it.
Now the time of reckoning has come. The world will probably know about her husband’s proclivities soon since inquiries are being made and Monte is the one who’s after her. He’d always been obsessed with Lavinia, even wanted her for himself. The mastermind who controlled and shared almost all the debaucheries with Vaile. He was one of the reasons why Lavinia <i>had</i> to get away. If this blows out of proportion, she’d probably be marked as a ‘whore’. But even that wasn’t what completely terrified Lavinia. It was the fact that, along with the world, Max would also come to know about it. Is there any way a gentleman like him can take it easily? How will she live with knowing that he hates her very presence for a <i>sin</i> she didn’t even commit willingly?
Thankfully, Max was already aware of this fact. He became Lavinia’s shadow the moment he found out about the murder. With that, he also found out her secret meeting with the madam. Max was the one who saves Lavinia from a few thugs bend on harassing her, though she was unaware that he was following her. When Max found out about her and Randolph’s meeting, he instantly becomes suspicious and jealous, thinking they were having an affair. But soon it’s clarified to him by Sophia; things were not how it seemed. After that, Max starts his investigation. Though things didn’t look well, through his investigation he finds out the extent of Monte and Vaile’s perversions. Now the question was, how can he prove her innocence when everyone knew of Lavinia’s threat to Vaile? Every gossip, every suspicion is being cast at her way, more so because she’s a woman. Monte apparently is hell bent on seeing her punished. But one thing Max knew that he has to convince Lavinia to confide in <i>everything</i> about her relationship with Vaile. After grudgingly accepting his offer of help, though she had been forthcoming with some information, Max knew Lavinia had held back much more. He wished more than anything that she’d confide in him on her own.
When a riot of sort threatens to break lose outside of Vaile’s house where all 3 Furies were at, both Max and Wynchester rush in to save them, thanks to the summon from Lavinia’s lady’s maid, Maggie and Sullivan, Max’s Irish friend. Together in India, they’d been through a lot, which solidified their friendship even though they’re not equal in social status. Max couldn’t have chosen a better man to become his eyes at Lavinia’s when, unbeknownst to her, Sullivan becomes Lavinia’s coachman. At Vaile’s house is where we get to see Thea and Wynchester together for the first time. I’d really like to know what’s going on between them, because their chemistry was so... good! I’m also a bit confused about Sophia and her own story with Randolph, about a secret group or something? The mentions were a little vague.
Lavinia needed a safe place during the time of the investigation, which she finds with Emma, Wynchester’s step-mother the dowager Duchess. Being a former courtesan, she herself is a scandalous figure, though Emma enjoys her notoriety and tackles the gossip with a joke here and a quip there. She was one of the characters I really liked because she completely understood Lavinia’s pain, confusion and guilty-feelings. In her, Lavinia found another staunch ally. She was also the one who makes sure that Max and Lavinia gets some alone time to ‘sort out’ their differences, and sort out they did. ;) Now here’s what I thought was the most beautiful part of the story. Even though, initially, their relationship had a trust fragile at best, and for good reasons, Max never lost hope. He was relentless about his determination to protect Lavinia, and to cherish her if she’d give him the opportunity. He wanted to marry her, plain and simple, but it all depended on Lavinia herself. His persistence pays off when she begins to reciprocate, even if slowly. Already mentioned that Lavinia never got over him, and why she was so reluctant. Lavinia knew that once they’re together in every sense of the way, she can’t bear the pain if he rejects her love, in her mind, once again. Thankfully, throughout the course of the story, that trust grew stronger and stronger, as if they knew each-other’s minds. There was no big misunderstanding to frustrate me because even if they had doubts over anything, they didn’t keep it inside to let it fester. Once that trust, and the hope of a new future, started flourishing, Max and Lavinia started talking. With trepidation, Lavinia at last confides in Max about the shameful truth of her own marriage. She finds it hard to believe that Max knows, and doesn’t blame her one whit! But then, she should’ve. Hadn’t Max reinstated it over and over again that he’ll be ‘her servant and her sword’ no matter what? I thought that was absolutely beautiful!
The next best scene was Lavinia’s meeting with her estranged mother. It was so heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time, that I couldn’t help feeling for both women. Especially Lavinia, because after they talk, it becomes apparent that everything around her was being manipulated by Vaile and Monte so that she’s virtually a prisoner of their whims. Lavinia also comes to learn of the <i>whys</i> of Max’s journey to India and just how he and her father had become very close, much like any father and son because Lavinia’s father always held himself responsible for Max’s traumatized experience that left him in such a vulnerable state of mind. It was because of his companionship and encouragement that Max finally got to his feet and started taking an interest in life once again. After the old man’s passing, Max is now taking care of Lavinia’s mother, as well as their brewery business. Lavinia didn’t learn any of this during her blank and miserable life with Vaile. Later, when she thought her mother was returning her letters unopened, she lost all hope. But her mother never received any of those letters. :( Lavinia hardened her heart and tried to move on, not bothering with <i>that</i> part of her life. It saddened me to think that they missed so many years together in between because of two mentally unstable men.
At one point, Kasai’s appearance in England with a <i>very</i> surprising guest stuns and alarms Max to no end. This certainly didn’t look good! Max was keeping an eye on Monte’s brothel where something sinister was about to take place when he finds out about it. Was there a connection to Vaile’s murder with this new development? The implication of the presence of that guest meant Max had to act fast, though his first and foremost concern was to get Monte to admit to the murder, preferably in the hearing distance of a magistrate to prove his guilt. By then, he was fairly certain that it was Monte who did it, as he was the one who heard Lavinia making the threat. He was one to spread it everywhere. Monte loved controlling and playing with people’s lives and Lavinia had been his obsession for a long time. He was a lunatic who wanted her in his web of obscene lies and deceit, to have her all to himself. But how can Max prove it? Randolph turns out to be someone much more than what meets the eyes as he helps Max with information. Something that also concerns his own problems with Sophia.
While Max was at it, Lavinia was planning her own charade to catch Monte. She knew a bit of Max’s plans, and though he wanted her to stay safe, Lavinia thought it was her business because Monte is a part of her past. A past, if luck holds, she’d bury with this last ‘performance’. Lavinia knew that she probably had enough power to control Monte to some extent, but she never had the stomach to do so before. Today, this is something she’s going to have to use to get Monte where she wanted him. At first, I thought Lavinia was taking a big chance here by playing with fire but I could also understand her determination. She was not only trying to clear her name but also seeking some sort of closure. She absolutely <i>needed</i> that closure IMO.
When all was said and done, with Max and Lavinia madly in love and tentatively planning a new future, the story, for the Furies, are far from over. Lady Vice found her long overdue happiness, but we’re still in the middle of another, big, treachery that might bring down the Wynchester Dukedom. Can’t wait to see what Duchess Decadence has to do about it. I can’t even comment on Lady Scandal’s secret marriage to Randoph, then, her subsequent departure to hide from him. God knows what these two are up to! Either way, I think I’m in a hell of a journey here with this series, thanks to Wendy LaCapra’s vivid imagination. A solid 4 star and recommended!
I received this ARC, courtesy of Entangled Scandalous, via netgalley which didn’t influence my review and rating in any way.