I give this a 4 1/2 only because of some of the violent matter, however the story was strong and emotional. I personally cannot imagine loving someone who treated me as Catherine was treated by Sean but the story was still to me very good. I found I couldn't put it down despite the violent scenes that I sometimes scimmed through quickly.
First - reader beware - this book is not for everyone. It is very controversial, it is a very emotional roller coaster ride, and it will make you feel uncomfortable.
The hero Sean is a young Irish man who saw his mother raped and butchered by the English. He was the only one to survive in his village. He is consumed by revenge and wants nothing in life but to ruin the man who ordered his village slaughtered. In the first step of his plans he kidnaps his young daughter, takes her to his ancestral home in Ireland and makes her live the life of a slave. He brutally rapes her, beats her, starves her, makes her work at the most demeaning jobs but even after all of this he starts to fall in love with her.
Kit hates Sean at first and wants nothing but to escape. She tries and fails, yet still she defies him at every opportunity. However, she to feels herself drawn to the stormy Irish man and she can't help falling in love with her capture, her tormentor.
This book wasn't nearly as shocking as all the hype surrounding it would suggest. In fact, it's pretty conventional in many respects. For example, the pat incest resolution, as well as the pretty quick thawing of Sean's resolve to beat down and kill Kit. I was prepared to have a couple hundred pages of abuse, but imagine my surprise when Sean's attitude towards her turns to love & protection (well, of a sort) by page 85 and lasts for well over 200 pages until Kit acts according to her conscience and brings it all crashing down into a short-lived loop of hatred and revenge, followed by the rest being selfless acts of devotion and sacrifice. I think this book has gotten the reputation it has from people who didn't read past page 50 (if they got that far) and hearsay and groupthink took over like it usually does. Read it for yourselves, if you can get a copy or find it online.
The book lost steam around page 450, when Kit and Sean wind up in France as Napoleon's ambitions and intrigues and counter-intrigues take center stage. Monson was unable to make these big picture machinations nearly as interesting as the intense personal struggle that consumed the first 2/3rds of the novel with just Sean & Kit and the dark, dysfunctional little world of the Culhane keep of Shelan. It was atmospheric, close, and terrifying. Excellent stuff. I felt it should have ended by pg 450, as neatly tied up as it eventually was on pg 568. The extended epilogue in France was so at odds with the rest of the book and, well, frankly boring. So much was thrown into it that by this point I thought it was overstuffed. The final chapter was rushed, indicating four years had passed with Sean at Austerlitz, that I wondered why Monson hadn't paced herself and kept it for a sequel. (Separation over the battlefields of Europe as they fight to reunite! I'd have read it.) The overall feeling I had by the end was that it was very ambitious, overdiligent, and half-successful. Even the typos started getting heavier by the end, as if the editor gave up. But it was a first novel. I have some others of hers that I'll read to compare.
I was glad to finally finish it, as the end kept dwindling down and got more ponderous. It's not a keeper, that's for sure, but I'm happy to have read it and actually seen for myself what the big whoop was all about. Overblown hysteria in the current pablum romance era, IMO.
From back cover:
"Abducted on her way to boarding school, a terrified Catherine Enderly was brought from England to the coast of Ireland, the prisoner of the angry and powerful young Sean Culhane-a man sworn to vengeance against her family.
Frightened but defiant, the young countess met her captor with a strength that belied her fragile loveliness. But even as Sean vowed to have his revenge on Catherine, with each encounter he became more attracted to her. Her fiery innocence was a seduction that lured the passions of long smoldering hostility into a blazing inferno of desire.
Locked in a love-hate duel, he did not suspect that the captivating beauty who fought him with such tenacity was struggling desperately against her own awakened desires, and that his touch has become the burning reminder that the fierce hatred she felt for him had become an all-consuming love".
This author committed suicide, at the age of 57, at her former husband's home in Greeley, Colorado on September 11, 2003 after suffering from depression.