It’s all a matter of control and how little we often have over our own lives. In The Secret Heart by Erin Satie, the characters are all under constraints- by the rules of society, the behavior of family members, financial concerns, addictive habits, sexual tensions, and the ties of love. Within these confines, our protagonists stretch their boundaries until they are reigned back in by their own flawed life experiences. Adam Spark, the Earl of Bexley mingles in disguise with the navvies, relieving his tensions through barbaric bare knuckle boxing while seventeen year old Caroline Small, daughter of an impoverished Viscount, furtively tests her endurance through the daily intensive ballet routines which she is compelled to pursue. Neither activity is appropriate for members of the English nobility of the ton in 1838. Both characters are searching for financial security. Adam is under the thumb of his father, the Duke of Hastings, who keeps his dutiful son on a short leash. Caroline is spending time at Irongate with her best friend Daphne Morland, ward to the same Duke, seeking to escape her dysfunctional family with a father and two brothers who gamble and frequent whorehouses while spending down her inheritance whenever they can finagle a way to get into her account. After Adam discovers Caroline’s little secret and she discovers his, an attraction grows between the two. When Caro sees the lust in his eyes, she gambles that the gentlemanly Adam could be the answer to her future, but she doesn’t bargain on her own physical reaction to the handsome Earl. When Lord Hastings shows his head, all bets are off as he takes control of the situation, just as he alwabareys does when family members go rogue. Nobody can win a battle of nerves with the all knowing, all powerful patriarch who easily exerts absolute control on his dependents until everyone falls into line. Adam has to decide whether he is willing to give up his dreams once again, or find a way to stand up to his father – a feat that no one has ever successfully accomplished.
All the characters are flawed. The Duke is an emotionless, manipulative bastard who makes sure his decisions are obeyed no matter what the consequences. Caro has been taught by her father’s courtesan, the renowned ballet dancer Giselle Villiers, to treat all men like pet dogs, showing them little attentions to gather their adoration while keeping an emotional distance. She’s been warned that falling in love will ruin a perfect relationship. Adam knows that the innocent Caro is using her wiles to entrap him, but, then again, he is only human and cannot resist her charms. His father won’t allow them to wed anyway. The darkness of the story provides an additional dimension to the seamy plot line, unlike the more traditional Victorian romance novels. There is evil or perhaps simply self interests which cloud the characters’ decisions, layering an additional dimension to the plot – and that’s what makes this book so riveting. Further pursuits are explored in the additional three novels of the No Better Angels Series. 4 stars.
Please note, I was given a free download of this title in exchange for an honest review.