When Strangers Marry by Lisa Kleypas

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Kleypas has given Only in Your Arms, her first title for Avon, a makeover, and the resulting book boasts a tighter plot and richer characterizations.

Set in New Orleans in the early 19th century, this atmospheric tale portrays the romance between Lysette Kersaint, a strong-willed Creole who is on the run from her abusive stepfather and an arranged marriage to a man she loathes, and Maximilien Vallerand, a notorious rake and widower who is rumored to have strangled his adulterous wife. Lysette finds protection in Max’s home, but she soon learns that he plans to use her as a pawn to exact revenge against her intended, Etienne Sagesse, his sworn enemy. The tension between the two quickly heats up, but before they can find happiness together, they must settle the mysteries of Max’s past.

Publisher and Release Date:  Avon, 1992/2002

RHL Classifications:
Time and Setting:  Jeffersonian Period/ Antebellum South
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level:  3
Reviewer Rating:  4 Stars

Review by Susan

The Creole society which settled in New Orleans, Louisiana, during the early 1800s isn’t often examined in the romance genre, but Lisa Kleypas brings out aspects about this milieu which have become part of America’s fabric in her novel When Strangers Marry.  Both Creole by origin, Lysette Kersaint and Max Vallerand carry baggage from their respective pasts, but when the pair comes together the wounds  from their past seem surmountable and stop being obstacles in their paths.

Lysette’s cruel step-father has arranged for her to marry an equally abusive man whose family are prominent plantation owners in New Orleans.  Her fiancé’s rival, Max Vallerand has the good fortune of his young sons’ finding Lysette as she is attempting to run away from her betrothed.  Max offers her sanctuary but his true motive is to seduce her then discard her and have his revenge on her fiancé who had seduced his first wife, Marianne.  Now a widower, Max has the opportunity he longed for, only his revenge isn’t carried out the way he planned after he discovers the beauty inside Lysette.

Kleypas masterfully constructs a dreamy hero and a strong-willed heroine bringing together two strangers whose affection for one another blossoms naturally.  She keeps the story moving, climaxing with a tension filled clincher when the family of Lysette’s former fiancé attempts to take the law into their own hands thinking Max killed their kinsman.

The political upheaval threatening to prevent the Louisianan Territory becoming part of the Union is examined and conveyed effectively through the narration and dialogue.  The sensuality in the love scenes is steamy and the sub-plots involving Max’s sons and brothers pull the reader deeper into the Vallerand’s family ties.  It’s a story that reveres Creole customs and examines a fraction of Louisiana’s early political climate before it became assimilated into the Union.  Like many of Kleypas’ novels, When Strangers Marry is a story that will stay in the back of readers’ minds perennially.

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