Scoundrel's Kiss by Carrie Lofty
Gavriel de Marqueda has left his life as a warrior to become an initiate in the religious Order of Santiago. His novice master charges him with "saving" a young Englishwoman who is up for auction as a slave. Ada of Keyworth (no last name) has found herself in this prediction because of an addiction to opium she has had since she was tortured back in England. She turned to opium to dull the physical pain and to help her forget that her sister chose a man, the man who had captured Ada and given her over to be tortured, over her. Ada ran away to Spain where her addiction has spiraled out of control and to pay for it she stole scrolls from a noted scholar. Gavriel is haunted by his past when he was a slave to his controlling father who used him as a mindless killing animal in his quests for power. He knows that it is hopeless but he is determined to earn his way into the order. Unfortunately their departure from the auction house lea aves much property damage in their wake and Ada's debts still unpaid and Gavriel and Ada depart on their own into the night.
Together the two of them battle their way to Toledo where Gabriel's Order is headquartered. Gavriel is surprised to find that there is a group of people after them and he suspects his father has finally found him and wants him to finish off the task he had failed: he is supposed to kill King Alfonso. Gavriel spends weeks with Ada helping her through her withdrawal and watching her become a lively, intelligent and incredibly happy person. And Gavriel too begins to change as he begins to believe his life may not be filled with loneliness and regret but he is still convinced the way to salvation is through the Order. This makes is more difficult for him when he is no longer able to fight the attraction he feels for Ada. But treachery lurks in those that they least expect and it seems like the entire world is conspiring against the two lovers. Gavriel cannot bear that he has finally met a woman who can forgive his past sins and love him and he might lose her. Together Gavriel and Ada must fight off their many enemies and prove to each other and to the world that they will do anything to be together.
This book is incredibly character driven and there really is so much information and back ground given on what makes these characters who they are. Ada is brilliantly written as a very flawed, very empathetic, and very likable heroine despite said flaws. I don't like info dumps of previous happenings but I also don't like being confused- I guess I can't have it both ways. Not having known anyone recovering from such severe addiction I cannot testify to the realism of Ada's experience but Lofty does an excellent job showing how, despite her addiction, Ada is a very complex character and more than a match for Gavriel. I liked Gavriel even better because he is so obviously tortured by a nightmarish past and wants so badly to make a better life for himself. Reading about these two working together and really healing each other, making each other feel better and become better people, was just really so amazing. These two fought their attraction for each other but in the end they are explosive together- I only wish they had been so more often.
The relationship between Gavriel and Ada was definitely the main focus of the book and I never found that it was being overpowered. This could easily have been the case as the secondary plot involving Gavriel's father and treachery and King Alfonso really permeates the entire book. It was certainly engrossing and for quite a bit of it I had no idea (in a good way) what was really going on and was quite surprised. Apparently it is fairly historically accurate, with some minor changes, but the Spanish setting and the travelling and the twist and turns really made this book so epic in a sense. I don't really "like" the violence but I did like how, while still being noble and working for the greater good, our protagonists, including Ada (!!!), aren't scared to do what they have to in order to survive. This book is a stand alone but it is quite obvious that it is part of a series of books. At first I was rather confused but eventually I was able to piece together what had happened previously so I could understand what had happened.
Rating: This book was excellent in a different way than most books I rate highly. It was not fun or fast, but it was engrossing and I absolutely loved how well Lofty writes these two characters. LOVED Ada and Gavriel.