Dorian Blackwell, the Blackheart of Ben More, is a ruthless villain. Scarred and hard-hearted, Dorian is one of Victorian London’s wealthiest, most influential men who will stop at nothing to wreak vengeance on those who’ve wronged him…and will fight to the death to seize what he wants. The lovely, still innocent widow Farah Leigh Mackenzie is no exception-and soon Dorian whisks the beautiful lass away to his sanctuary in the wild Highlands…
But Farah is no one’s puppet. She possesses a powerful secret-one that threatens her very life. When being held captive by Dorian proves to be the only way to keep Farah safe from those who would see her dead, Dorian makes Farah a scandalous proposition: marry him for protection in exchange for using her secret to help him exact revenge on his enemies. But what the Blackheart of Ben More never could have imagined is that Farah has terms of her own, igniting a tempestuous desire that consumes them both. Could it be that the woman he captured is the only one who can touch the black heart he’d long thought dead?
Publisher and Release Date: St. Martin’s Paperbacks, September 2015
Time and Setting: London and Scotland, 1872
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars
Review by Sara
Recently orphaned and left at a children’s home in Scotland, young Farah is drawn to a boy she discovers hiding out in the parish cemetery. Having witnessed Dougan being punished by the nuns just for wanting more food, Farah vows to share what she has with him and opens her heart to a new friend. Over three years, her relationship with Dougan grows until the love they have for one another is more than either of them quite understands at their young age. Through horrible circumstances they are ripped away from one another and Farah grows up knowing that her first love is lost to her and she must survive in the world on her own.
Seventeen years later, Farah has made a life for herself in London by working as a clerk in the offices of Scotland Yard. With a job that exposes her to criminal elements Farah has encountered many men and women who lead their lives on the wrong side of the law, but nothing prepares her for her first meeting with the man whom all other criminals fear, Dorian Blackwell.
Dorian, the Blackheart of Ben More, has created an empire for himself and the men who were with him at Newgate prison. He has survived against other criminals and beat the law with his intelligence and cutthroat tactics until his name was synonymous with power and control. Held to a promise to protect Farah with his life, he has searched for her ever since his release and uses all the resources at his disposal to take her to his stronghold in Scotland. There, he reveals to Farah threats against her life she never knew existed. Knowing more about her background than Farah realizes, Dorian tells her that the only way to protect her completely is to align her with him in the most binding way possible, through marriage!
To give away any more of the plots that unfold around Farah and Dorian would spoil what I felt was an amazing reading experience. The Highwayman draws in the reader with a touching story of love ripped apart but it keeps them riveted with tight characterizations and secrets that aren’t completely revealed until the very end.
I loved how much darkness and light were used not only for the tone of the story but to show just who Farah and Dorian are. The author takes advantage of her late Victorian setting by giving all of the events in London a very dark and gritty feel. Dorian and his men thrive in this darkness and there is good use of shadow whenever he is in a scene. This sense that Farah can never see him clearly is in turn the same sense we the reader have of him. Farah is light and goodness, so even in her earliest scenes we understand that she is a beacon that those around her use to bring themselves out into the open. In those same moments where Dorian hides in the darkness we can feel him drawn to Farah’s light. Only towards the end, when his ultimate secret is revealed are we finally illuminated to the real Dorian. From there, the darkness of all the characters slowly retreats until the last moment of the story when we know it’s been banished for good.
Farah is such an incredible heroine because she is allowed to be “good” but never crosses over into Mary Sue territory. Like many well-remembered heroines, she has a backbone of pure steel that keeps her upright when the hero himself or her situation tries to bend her. As an adult, Farah has grown from the tragedies of her childhood to appreciate all aspects of humanity. She is independent, holding down a difficult job in a male dominated world, but she also knows how important it is to be close to others. After the prologue we are reintroduced to Farah during a vulnerable moment of her life where she is ready to open her heart again after knowing heartbreak, but she doesn’t fear love. Throughout the story she remains true to her ideals but does allow for the moral grayness that comes with Dorian’s way of life.
Old school romance readers will appreciate many of the tricks the author uses to keep Dorian as mysterious a figure as long as possible. We see so many moments between them from Farah’s point of view that we fear him along with her but also come to understand him through her own awakening. Her love for Dorian comes from empathizing with his experiences in prison and recognizing everything he has done to become powerful in the underworld. Dorian is so much the traditional Alpha hero that I could transplant him straight from this book into one of the old bodice rippers. I really liked that he wasn’t the typical “Rake” or “Rogue” that we’ve all come to expect from historical romances these days. He was a Scoundrel who managed to find that small part of himself that hadn’t been completely tarnished and gave that part of himself to Farah.
The Highwayman includes not only perfect romantic elements but also the intrigues and devices that could grab a reader from any genre. There are lies, corruptions, murders, dramas and just amazing storytelling from beginning to end. I applaud Kerrigan Byrne for daring to write a dark romantic story when so many recent authors have come to bookstores with lighter fare with little substance. This book will stay with me long after I’ve finished it, which is the truest mark of a 5-star read.