When Lionel DeVere, young heir to the earldom of Stanhope, vanishes, the old earl presumes that his second son, Garrick, is responsible and sends him into exile. But this Georgian by the author of Splendor really starts 14 years later when the earl summons Garrick home and demands that he accept his responsibilities?including betrothal to a young twit who bores Garrick to death. Garrick is much more intrigued by her companion, Lady Olivia Grey, who's married to his lifelong enemy, Arlen Grey, an evil man who brutalizes Olivia and her young daughter because both have ESP. As is often the case, these special powers tend to substitute for more banal, but also more meaningful, motivations. The lack of real sexual tension pulls down the plot, but it gains momentum when the long-lost Lionel suddenly reappears to claim his earldom, which raises the question of where he has been and even who he is.
Emotionally abused Garrick De Vere could never please his father, the Earl of Stanhope. After his brother Lionel disappears and is assumed dead, Garrick escapes to Barbados. His father resorts to trickery to get his son to return and emotional blackmail to get him to marry and produce an heir. Olivia Grey is married to Arlen Grey, Earl of Ashburn. Arlen is having an incestuous relationship with his sister, Elizabeth, and delights in belittling and hitting Olivia whom he fears for her psychic gifts. Olivia and Arlen's daughter, Hannah, blind from birth, also has the gift of foresight. Olivia fears for her daughter and has hidden her powers from Arlen. While at their country estate, Olivia and Hannah awake one night in time to prevent one of their guests, Susan Layton from committing suicide. Susan is upset because she's been betrothed to Garrick and believes him a murderer. Olivia accompanies Susan to London to meet her fiancé. Garrick is cruel and rude to Susan, and manages to proposition Olivia, who finds him dangerously compelling, before he leaves. Despite vowing not to get involved with him, Olivia finds herself in love with Garrick and plunged into an affair that imperils both she and Hannah. Then Lionel reappears and Garrick must try to prove that this Lionel is not his real brother while at the same time rescuing Olivia and Hannah from the evil Arlen. Although I did admire the crafting of this book and Joyce's writing style, I must say that this is a grim, dark, angst-driven read that at times made me feel ill. Aside from the fact that there is adultery throughout the storyline and betrayal of friendship by Olivia, everyone is so incredibly cruel and corrupt. I did find Hannah fascinating, and if her story is written it should be intriguing. The Rival is a book that churns with emotion and danger. A dark romantic maelstrom that Joyce fans will savor to the last page! Joyce's writing is like silk! Powerful, evocative and emotionally charged!