Libertine’s Kiss by Judith James I don’t know why I love a tortured hero but I do. In my opinion no one can write the tortured hero like Judith James can. For those who love history her hero in Libertine's Kiss is based on John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, one of Charles II's cronies. He was a poet and playwright, part of Charles inner circle. For those who don’t know about this time period, think of the roaring twenties or the 1960. Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll. There is solid historical research on the characters, and James paints this time period with sumptuous and heart rending detail.
William De Veres, the Earl Rivers lost his soul long before he comes to Charles court. He fits right in with the decadent court in exile. The story starts just before the restoration. On a mission for Charles he finds himself hunted and injured on the door step of a prosperous manor house. He finds a woman alone with only her servants, and is taken in out of the storm and tended by this “Puritan Wren. “ The widow Elizabeth Walters recognizes this young man, as her childhood friend, her first love. Her reasons for saving him go back to the magical summer before the War. Back to that time before England was ripped apart and before William kills her father. One night of love and he goes, too focused on his mission to wonder for long what this niggling thing in the back of his mind is, she is just a woman after all and there have been so many women...
When Charles is restored to the throne his first actions are to punish and reward. William regains his family’s wealth and power, but Elizabeth doesn’t fare so well. She has heard that Charles is returning properties to their rightful owners. She decides to try and restore her family’s name and fortune, lost not because of her father’s connection to Cromwell but for helping William that night. She goes to court to petition Charles II for justice. Once again she meets William, he sees his “Little Puritan Wren”, then realizes the truth of who she is, and all he owes her. He is determined to help her navigate the dangers of court and help her regain what she has lost. He sees himself as irredeemable, but Lizzy sees the man beneath his mask. It is this conflict that drives the story. There is no simple solution to Williams’s problems. Lizzy loves him but knows that she can’t save him; he has to make the choice.
James as I have said really get into her characters heads, There are no pat answers Lizzy doesn’t save him, but she is the reason that drives him to re-examine his life, to face his demons. To crawl out of his bottle and maybe just maybe dare to believe in the dreams that he and Lizzy had shared as children. He begins to see the falseness of the court and the hangers on. The wasteland that has become his life and that will remain his life if he lets Lizzy go. I enjoyed that James included John Wilmot poetry. Any book that makes me want to research someone, I know is a good one. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.
As published on the PBS blog June 2011
Great characters , very involved storyline. Can't wait for the next book