Friday, February 1, 2013

Trial by Desire

Trial by Desire by Courtney Milan

In the book prior to this, Ned Carhart and Lady Kathleen were forced to wed in order to avoid scandal and after a few months of marriage Kathleen is trying desperately to prove to Ned that they can have a happy and very passionate marriage. But Ned is determined to prove himself something other than the young wastrel that his family believes him so he decides to go to China to find out what is happening in the opium trade. Kathleen is heartbroken and spends the next three years trying to get over her love and ignoring the many lords who try to take advantage of her newly abandoned state. When Ned returns it is to find his wife much less willing to reconcile than he had imagined and to find that his friend, Lord Harcroft, has lost his wife, Louisa. Harcroft, Ned, and Ned's cousin, Gareth, and his wife, Jenny, all come together at Ned's estate to think of a plan to find Louisa and Ned realizes that Kathleen is on the outside of all the action. Kathleen is terrified that Ned will learn her secret; she helps women in abusive relationships escape their husbands and she is currently hiding Louisa on a small cottage on the estate.

When Ned discovers Louisa's whereabouts on his own, and why Louisa has run away, he gains a new respect for his wife, and is doubly determined to earn back her trust and prove that they can have a happy relationship together. Kathleen knows she must protect her heart from Ned as it is painfully obvious that Ned continues to hold something back from her. She wants to break through the control that Ned has on himself and unleash the passion she knows is in him. However, Ned, is hiding his own demons; he suffers from manic episodes of depression where he has to physically and mentally force himself to survive and he fears any crack in the armor will lead to his destruction. Kathleen wants to be a part of this armor, to be someone that Ned can come to for comfort and succor and does not know how their marriage will work if Ned does not learn to trust her. Things come to a head when Harcroft discovers what has become of Louisa and has Kathleen arrested on trumps up charges and Ned must work harder than he ever has to save the woman he loves. To truly save their marriage though will take a leap of faith from both of them as they learn to trust each other and trust in their love for the other.

Trial by Desire follows up Milan's Proof by Seduction and while this book was a stand alone it would be made much easier by reading the first book. I read it a long while ago and could not remember many things that were referenced in this book and was confused at times, especially when it came to Ned's overwhelming desire to prove himself because of something in his past. I wanted to like Kathleen very much because of her passion for helping abused women, but unfortunately I found her life outside of that to be boring and uninteresting and her personality to be weak and unlikable. She maintained a huge distance between herself and others, supposedly to keep her secret life a secret, and seemed to have very few friends. She vows not to give into Ned's seductions but gives in remarkably quickly after making this promise to herself. I felt like her refusing to give into Ned for so long served no purpose and made it even more ridiculous when she just gave in, pretty much out of the blue. Ned was very confusing because there is such a big deal made about this darkness that haunts him and yet, it really does not affect his relationship with Kathleen at all and seemed more like a red herring.

Their relationship developed rather slowly and had an air of just slog to it, like neither of them was really happy with the other and the sex was pretty lukewarm. I loved the way that Milan dealt with domestic abuse in this novel; she excellently portrayed this as a very difficult situation for the women who find themselves abused and for the friends and families who find it so difficult to accept and act when confronted with abusive relationships. Louisa is a very well written abused wife, struggling with balancing her love for her son and the very restrictive laws of the time. Just as importantly, Milan portrayed Ned's actions regarding the abusive relationship could not have been better; he was outraged and he acted in the right by helping his wife, but he also confronted the harsh realities of the times. Unfortunately Milan does not do as remarkable a job at portraying mental illness, particularly depression. I understand that everyone wants to believe that depression can be defeated by strength of will, but it cannot and Ned being able to do so is like a slap in the face, in my opinion, to the people who suffer from it.

Rating: Two difficult characters for me to like in a depressing relationship where the only thing I could admire was her portrayal of domestic violence in a different relationship.

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