Tag Archives: Cynster Sisters Duo

Stephanie Laurens Gets Closer to the Cynster Ideal and Foreshadows the Family’s Future in The Taming of Ryder Cavanaugh

5 Jul

The Taming of Ryder Cavanaugh (Cynster Sisters Duo #2; Cynster series #20) by Stephanie Laurens (Avon, June 25, 2013)

It’s no secret that I believe Stephanie Laurens’ Cynster series to be one of, if not the best, Regency series on the market, but I’ve also been vocal in my criticism that this talented author does not play to her strengths in recent years. Her latest novel, The Taming of Ryder Cavanaugh, falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, demonstrating old school strengths of Laurens’ writing, while also still (unfortunately) highlighting some of the weaknesses we’ve seen in the last five novels of the series.

Whereas the first seven or eight books in the Cynster saga possessed strong male leads (rakes, every last one of them) meeting women who they MUST possess and marry, later books in the series, including the Cynster Sisters Trilogy and Cynster Sisters Duo, rely heavily on conflict provided by “mysteries” so obvious my cat could pick out the villain in the first 30 pages. Combined with Laurens’ purple prose tendencies in the bedroom (a propensity you would expect to fade with time as the romance readership has become much more comfortable with specific language and fewer euphemisms), you would expect even devoted readers to throw up their hands and just walk away from her.

But we don’t and it’s largely due – at least on my part – to the fact that her period construction is so tight and realistic that I will never worry about incorrect language spoken by characters living in this time period, or that social constructs will be flaunted without reference to the mores that are there to guide the characters, even if they choose to reject them. I am SO tired with historical romances with dialogue (“We need to talk this over” from a medieval warrior) or actions (Regency heroines having sex with no thought or worry about getting pregnant or the loss of their reputation) but Laurens never fails to make her characters attractive to modern readers yet always living fully within her world.

Devil’s Bride (Cynster series #1 – Devil and Honoria’s story) by Stephanie Laurens (Avon, 1998)

This particular book forms a full circle for the Cynster series, as virtually every character mentioned in the first book of the series has found their match. The heroine of this novel is none other than Mary Cynster, the baby sister who toddled through the wet grass saying a secret goodbye to her dead brother Tolly in Devil’s Bride, the first book that launched the series back in 1998. Now she’s a bossy young woman with a heart of gold who finally has possession of the necklace given to her cousins and sisters by Catriona (Scandal’s witchy Scottish wife) in honor of her “Lady”, a pagan goddess figure. The necklace is supposed to tell Mary who is her “hero” by heating up in his presence. But decisive Mary knows exactly who she should marry and she’d be moving things right along that is, if his pesky older brother, Ryder Cavanaugh, Marquess of Raventhorne, would stop interfering.

But Ryder has no intention of doing so. His half-brother is only in his mid-twenties and much too soft a man for the force of nature that is Mary Cynster. That she’s a stunning beauty and the last of the marriageable Cynsters of her generation makes her an incredible prize for any man wishing to ally himself with her powerful family. But Ryder wants her for another reason – he senses her fire and passion would bring much to a marriage but her sense of family, an inheritance any Cynster brings to a union, is exactly what he wishes to create in his damaged group of siblings. The Marquess of Raventhorne wants any children of his to grow up surrounded by unquestionable love and loyalty – in short, he wants what the Cynsters have.

Mary is no fool. Ryder is sensual, handsome and powerful so she appreciates what Ryder is offering even if she does acknowledge he will not be a man she can control. That he is willing to entertain a partnership has her agreeing to consider him as a suitor, but almost before she can put her mind to that puzzle, an incredible attack and her reputation being comprised forces them into marriage. As strong emotions take root between them, threats to both Ryder and Mary mean they might never have the chance to establish the family they both crave.

It’s not going to be as easy for Laurens to get her heroines undressed when she hits the Victorian period. Yikes!

I really thought that this would be the one to break the recent trend of Laurens’ books which have had great characters but highly manufactured and shallow “danger” propelling the plot forward. The first third of the book had me gripping my iPad in happiness – FINALLY here was a hero to fulfill the Cynster tradition of a rake who sets his eyes on a heroine and will not be swayed from winning her. But before he can hie her off to a conservatory for proper ravishment, some jackass “mystery” plot has to butt its fat head in and derail all that energy and sexual tension. Yes, their relationship is fantastic and continues to progress, but not with the same level of energy.

There is still a great deal to love in this book. Mary’s scene right before her wedding of bursting into Ryder’s bedroom (she has no plans on being the only Cynster female to go to her marriage bed a virgin!) is priceless and filled with the sexy humor Laurens does so well. Any fan of the series will love not only the look at all the past couples but the close up view of the all the children of those matches we’ve loved, with definite hints as to their characters. Seeing Devil and Honoria’s two teenage sons and their high-spirited daughter Louisa, as well as their cousins who followed right behind them in age, means that the next books need only be 10 to 15 years in the future to have these young men and women finding love.

I do worry about all those children and the future of the series. Will Laurens, who has said she intends to write their stories, master the Victorian age with the skill she has the Regency period? How can the Cynster passion hold against the much stricter and rigid Victorian mores (we might have to have virgins in their marriage bed)? With the invincibility of the first generation of Cynster men, the horror that was the Crimean War looms large and could create any amount of damage of this generation. Laurens has also been very, very careful to have each match be highly appropriate in terms of class – Lucifer and Phyllida’s match probably pushes the envelope the most since she’s minor landed gentry and he’s first cousin to a Duke. The Victorian age in England had so many aristrocrats marrying daughters with large fortunes and previously unacceptable backgrounds. Will this be impetus for Americans to break into the Cynster family? I think they’d be right at home.

Where the Heart Leads (The Casebook of Barnaby Adair #1 – Barnaby and Penelope’s story) by Stephanie Laurens (Avon, 2008)

Laurens has made clear that she plans on the next books not immediately jumping into the Cynsters of the future, but rather revisiting her character of Barnaby Adair by adding books to The Casebook of Barnaby Adair series. Right now the only book is the one which fully fleshed out his character (although he appears in other Cynster books as someone who helps solve the mystery), Where the Heart Leads. Here amid a backdrop of stolen orphans and Mayfair burglaries, Barnaby finds his perfect match in the unconventional Penelope Ashford, a Cynster connection several times over as her brother and her sister have both married into the family. The two of them with their inquisitive minds, stellar intelligence and aristocratic (as well as common man) connections team to unravel a mystery and save the day and they are a terrific couple.

Whether the new Adair books will bring in new characters or simply be mysteries featuring Barnaby and Penelope, I don’t know. The only thin hope I’m clinging to has to do with the fact that Laurens’ mysteries were in fact much better during these writing years for her, so my fingers are crossed that she recaptures that ability while showing us glimpses of the Cynsters at play. Stephanie Laurens has always shown her comfort level with jumping back and forth in years, so it’s highly possible these books could predate Mary and Ryder’s love story. Either way, even with her shortcomings, I’ve got enough Cynster fangirl in me to see this family through whatever Laurens throws their way. Bring it on, Stephanie!

Cynster Sisters Duo Proves an Upswing in Recent Cynster Books with And Then She Fell by Stephanie Laurens

21 Apr

And Then She Fell (Cynster Sisters Duo #1, Cynster Series #19 – Henrietta Cynster and James Glossup) by Stephanie Laurens (Avon, March 26, 2012)

If anyone remembers the first time they read Devil’s Bride, the book one in the now legendary Cynster series by Stephanie Laurens, I’m sure they can picture the sweet scene where the children of the family go to say goodbye at the graveside of their brother and cousin Tolly, the littlest ones struggling with the walk in the night as Devil and Honoria look on, restraining themselves from helping lest it ruin the ceremony. I don’t know how old this makes you feel (Devil’s Bride was originally published in 1998), but I end up with the impression that the Cynsters are somehow an extension of my own family, particularly with the realization that these youngest members are all grown up and ready for their own romance novels.

And Then She Fell is the first in the spin-off series the Cynster Sisters Duo (two books still attached to the Cynster series – this is the nineteenth book) focusing on the two youngest daughters of Arthur and Louise – Henrietta and Mary – sisters to twins Amanda and Amelia (On a Wild Night and On a Wicked Dawn) and Simon (The Perfect Lover). Of all these books, Simon’s story in The Perfect Lover is probably the most crucial to read prior to this one, as the hero to Henrietta Cynster is none other than James Glossup, the younger son of the house and murder suspect in the country house party mystery that provides the setting for Simon and Portia to fall in love with one another. (Anyone needing a series overview should take a look at my post on the entire Cynster series for a refresher.)

Henrietta is in her late twenties having never quite found her hero and to be honest, she’s not looking that hard, a fact immensely frustrating to her younger sister Mary. Mary’s rising blood pressure relates to the belief that she thinks she has possibly found her hero but can’t verify the fact until the amethyst necklace blessed by the Lady and given to the girls by Catriona Cynster (wife to Scandal Cynster and a Scottish pagan whose story is told in Scandal’s Bride). This necklace has been used to good effect by their cousins in the Cynster Sister’s Trilogy and Mary knows that Henrietta must use it first since she’s older. The necklace heats up in the presence of the man destined to be the fated mate of the Cynster woman, thus directing her efforts. At Mary’s insistence, Henrietta dons the necklace and the games begin.

Fashion plate of riding attire from 1837 (the year And Then She Fell is set) from La Mode

Known as the “Matchbreaker”, Henrietta has garnered quite a reputation for using her vast network of contacts within the ton to research a young man upon request of a young lady considering his suit, often discovering sordid habits, shifting finances or simply conformation of it not being a love match. That final point seems to be a common request as it has become more fashionable for well-born young women to want to marry for love. When a good friend of hers asks Henrietta to check on James Glossup, a suitor who has been making his preference for her known, Henrietta is forced to come back with the information that James has some kind of financial imperative to marry and doesn’t seem to be factoring love into the equation. A bit wistful, the friend and her parents are nevertheless grateful for averting a mismatch and James is nicely sent packing.

Naturally, he’s livid at getting his conge and angrily approaches Henrietta in a crowded ballroom. What Henrietta didn’t know was that James has unexpectedly received an inheritance from a great-aunt who wanted to ensure that the bachelor would knuckle down and get married, so he must marry within the month in order to release the funds which would allow him to support the estate and everyone on it. His noblesse oblige has him frantic to follow the stipulations of the will so as not to put hundreds of people out of work and Henrietta’s interference has botched everything. He doesn’t seem to hear too well Henrietta’s empathetic explanation that, since her friend wanted to marry for love and James clearly didn’t love her, it wouldn’t have worked anyway, but in the end, the soft-hearted Henrietta makes James a compelling offer. She will use her contacts to help him find a bride within the allotted time period.

Spending time with Henrietta pointing out the eligible young woman who fit his criteria and who she knows of are good character and temperament allows James to decide fairly quickly that his perfect match is actually standing right next to him. The emotion for this decision is ratcheted up by a series of what seem like accidents befalling Henrietta, accidents which are quickly revealed to be a pattern of attacks by an unknown foe. Every Cynster relation and Cynster friend come out of the woodwork to help (so reread the series and the Bastion Club books if you want to not be scratching your head remembering who’s who) constituting a type of Old Home Week for fans of Stephanie Laurens. Naturally the bad guy doesn’t have a chance, and James and Henrietta get their happily ever after, with Mary the happy recipient of the necklace and the next book in the series.

The Taming of Ryder Cavanaugh (Cynster Sisters Duo #2, Cynster Series #20) by Stephanie Laurens (Avon, June 25, 2013)

And let me make clear how much I am looking forward to the next book, The Taming of Ryder Cavanaugh. And Then She Fell is solid Stephanie Laurens fare, but like many of her recent publications, she veers away from her strength, namely the utterly wicked rake ensnared completely and utterly by the spunky heroine. Laurens’ ability to write honorable rakes nevertheless well-schooled in the arts of debauchery seemed to lessen after The Perfect Lover, highlighting her weaknesses (plodding mystery plots and ridiculous prose for the sex scenes that could easily win a purple prose award).

In the Cynster Sisters Trilogy, I was so excited as Viscount Breckenridge, no slouch in the rake department (as realized in the book about his young widowed stepmother, The Ideal Bride) fit this hero mold, but the setting of the book being on the road as he runs down Heather Cynster’s kidnappers, failed to highlight his rakish tendencies in Viscount Breckenridge to the Rescue. Instead it took the utterly alpha male villain-turned-hero on his home turf in Scotland to give us a little taste of the old Stephanie Laurens in The Capture of the Earl of Glencrae.

Based on the teaser chapter, Ryder Cavanaugh fits the mold of our original Bar Cynster (the virile and deliciously naughty males comprising the first six books of the series). He’s fascinated by the headstrong Mary Cynster who seems to think that Ryder’s half-brother is her intended hero. Ryder is taken not just by Mary’s beauty but her spunk, a quality not well-appreciated by the ton and an attribute that actually renders her a complete mismatch for Ryder’s younger brother, who would let a strong woman ride roughshod over him. That he clearly sees her as a prize – she is the last unwed Cynster female of her generation and therefore the last opportunity for any family to make a connection to this powerful family – is apparent, but we know Laurens’ tried and true method of falling “in lust” first and love second will prevail. Since this rake’s “prowling grace” and naughty past was alluded to in the teaser, and since it hints at the majority of the book happening on his home turf in the ballrooms of the ton, I’m hoping that Laurens will play to her strengths and give us an alpha hero of yore.

Let me be clear – I think Stephanie Laurens is an immensely talented writer who has given the romance world one of the best Regency series ever, but I worry that over the course of now twenty years of her career, she has lacked editors or agents encouraging her to evolve as a writer. I recently listened to a few RWA conference sessions and was struck by the number of highly successful New York Times best-selling authors who mention that they continue to take classes and read professional books to evolve as writers, forcing themselves to read all the recent award winners in order to understand what the market wants.

When I read Laurens’ books, I am often struck by how outdated they can seem, particularly in the area of sex scenes which I felt were such a strength in her early works. I would encourage her to consider playing on her prodigious abilities (well-drawn characters, strong historical settings, and an unbelievable sense of family) while shoring up her weaknesses in order to make sure that she doesn’t get left behind with all the great historical romance writers emerging on the market. Don’t get left behind, Stephanie. We love you and these characters way too much to watch that happen.

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