Review by Em
In real life (ha!), I’m a mom, wife and teacher. In my limited ‘me’ time, I read romance novels. And on those random (too few) afternoons when I have a car all to myself and no little ears listening in, I cue up romance on the Audible app; it’s a special treat and one I savor. The Enlightenment trilogy is one of my favorite historical series and because I love it so much, I’m slowly working my way through the audiobooks. Beguiled, book two in the series, is fantastic in both print and audio. Narrator Hamish McKinlay brilliantly brings to life David Lauriston and his lover Murdo Balfour, and the various secondary characters who appear in the story. I was uncomfortable with his portrayal of the female characters in Provoked, but he’s subtly changed his inflection this time out, and it’s a significant improvement. Readers and listeners new to the series should backtrack to Provoked in order to start the series. Beguiled picks up in Edinburgh two years after David and Murdo last saw one another and parted acrimoniously.
The city is gearing up for a visit from King George IV, and David is to attend the king’s levée as a member of the university law faculty. When he visits the tailor for a last-minute fitting for his formal dress, the last person he expects to encounter there is Lord Murdo Balfour. After their hurtful parting, David never expected to see Murdo again and he’s spent the past two years trying to get over him – but he’s never far from David’s thoughts. When Murdo emerges from the tailor’s back room, David is shocked… and once again overwhelmed by his feelings.
Over drinks at a nearby pub, David and Murdo each express regrets over the past. They spend a pleasant evening rediscovering the pleasure of spending time together and the tension that marked their first attempt at a relationship(?) is gone. Murdo has mellowed in the intervening years, and unbeknownst to him (the series is told exclusively from David’s PoV), David has slowly reconciled himself to his sexuality. The familiar frisson of attraction David feels for Murdo is still ever present – perhaps stronger than it was two years ago – and by the end of their impromptu visit, Murdo presses him to meet up again. Despite his attraction to Murdo, he’s reluctant to enter into a clandestine affair with him. Murdo still plans to marry and start a family, and David doesn’t feel able to maintain a casual love affair. He can’t – he won’t – commit to seeing Murdo again, but not long after, he finds himself irresistibly drawn to Murdo anyway.
The Enlightenment series is complex, and Beguiled presents a peculiar set of challenges for this reviewer. Although the relationship between David and Murdo is the central plotline that unites the series (it’s brilliant and what I most want to talk about), in Beguiled, Ms. Chambers merges two divergent and intriguing storylines – and they deserve your attention too. Shortly after David’s surprise meeting with Murdo at the tailors, he finds himself reunited with Elizabeth Chalmers (his mentor’s daughter) and Euan MacLennan. The three find themselves together at David’s apartment at a party to watch the King parade through the Edinburgh streets; Elizabeth is now unhappily married to an abusive husband, and Euan is a reporter for a radical publication. The meeting precipitates a tremendously well-crafted convergence of their storylines, and ultimately, changes the direction of David’s life. I’m reluctant to say more about it and spoil events in the book… suffice to say, it’s a thrilling conclusion to the novel and David plays a pivotal role in it. His actions, which he keeps secret from Murdo, nearly cost him his life.
Shortly after Beguiled reaches its exciting climax, David finally begins to acknowledge the depth of his feelings for Murdo,
…the impossible-to-shake feeling of well-being and security that flooded him whenever Murdo was physically close to him. It had been such a long time since he’d had anyone to lean on.
And much like the mostly lighter feel of this novel vs. Provoked, Ms. Chambers ends it on a hopeful note. David and Murdo still have a way to go – David believes Murdo will one day marry and neither is ready to admit they’re in love – but she leaves us with a happy for now.
Hamish McKinlay does a marvelous job voicing his principal characters and inflecting the longing they feel for each other. He perfectly captures the emotional nuances in their voices from scene to scene – serious when with the King, playful when they’re alone together, desperate when they’re intimate – and deeply frustrated when they’re struggling to see eye to eye or separated from one another. He’s subtly changed his tone when voicing female characters, and I liked his new interpretation very much. Though his portrayal of Murdo Balfour is my favorite overall, I particularly liked how he voiced one of the more intriguing secondary characters to emerge – Captain Ian Sinclair. Sinclair is attached to the King – but his relationship with Murdo is slightly less clear, and he seems to delight in tormenting him by naughtily flirting with an annoyed David (I loved it!). I absolutely loved Mr. McKinlay’s sly and flirtatious delivery and he makes the character truly memorable.
I was beguiled by Beguiled in print, but I think I loved it even more in audio. Hamish McKinlay does a terrific job conveying the deep emotional bond between Murdo and David, and he truly brings this romantic and complex novel to life. It can’t get any better… can it? Fingers crossed.
Publisher and Release Date: Joanna Chambers, November 2017
Time and Setting: Edinburgh, 1822
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Two years after his last encounter with cynical nobleman Lord Murdo Balfour, David Lauriston accidentally meets him again in the heart of Edinburgh. King George IV is about to make his first visit to Edinburgh, and Murdo has been sent North by his politician father to represent his aristocratic family at the celebrations. David and Murdo’s last parting was painful – and on Murdo’s part, bitter – but Murdo’s feelings seem to have mellowed in the intervening years. So much so that he suggests to David that they enjoy each other’s company during Murdo’s stay in the capital. Despite his initial reservations, David cannot put Murdo’s proposal from his mind, and soon find himself at Murdo’s door – and in his arms.
But other figures from David’s past are converging on the city, and as the pomp and ceremony of the King’s visit unfolds around them, David is drawn into a chain of events that will threaten everything: his career, his well-being, and the fragile bond that, despite David’s best intentions, is growing between him and Murdo.