I have to say it feels a bit weird to be reviewing Lord Sin (Kalen Hughes, 2007) right after Take This Bread, but it's not MY fault that the biography of Napoleon that I tried to read between the two turned out to be a) boring, b) nothing I hadn't known already, and c) full of annoying hints at the writer's present-day politics, which are in opposition to my own. It's also not Kalen's fault the book is called Lord Sin. It wasn't her original title. Marketing gave it to her, along with, I presume, the lurid and not remotely period-appropriate cover with the red-lit naked guy. I'm sure all y'all reading this blog would've been amused to see me trying desperately to keep the book lying flat with cover concealed as I finished it over lunch today at the Indian buffet by my office.
A disclaimer: As you may have already guessed, I know Kalen. We're both members of the Beau Monde (RWA's Regency special interst chapter), we frequent the same blogs, and I hung out with her a bit at RWA National last summer. She's my corner of the internet's acknowledged expert on historical clothing, which is saying a lot, because, at the risk of boasting, we're a well-informed bunch. (I aspire to know as much about military history as Kalen does about costume, but I've got a ways to go yet.)
Anyway, Lord Sin is a strong debut. Kalen has an excellent historical voice, and her knowledge of history and attention to detail shine through on the page. It's a very sexy romance, with love scenes specific to the protagonists and their relationship--nothing paint-by-numbers about it. I definitely recommend it.
It's strange reading a book where I had something of an insider's view of its construction, since Kalen talked about some of the changes her editor requested she make after buying the manuscript. For instance, the book was originally set in the Regency, I think post-Waterloo (or, as I'm wont to call it, "the boring part after the war was over," though that applies to my writing rather than my reading interests). The published version is set in 1788, and she really did a brilliant job of incorporating appropriate details to bring the earlier period to life. But one of the heroine's horses was named Talavera, which I don't think would've occurred to an Englishwoman for her horse before the 1809 battle, so I wondered if Kalen just didn't catch that one or if she left it in to make nitpicky people like me go "hey!" Also, I knew the subplot with the villain had been added at editorial request, which I think made me notice the seams where it had been patched in, in a way that I wouldn't have if I'd just happened to buy the book. And lastly, I really thought the book should've been 50 or 60 pages longer. It's a quick read, 301 pages in mass market paperback, standard font size, and I felt like there was all kinds of richness of character backstory and interrelationships only hinted at that I would've loved to see fleshed out a bit more.
But none of that changes my recommendation of this book. It's the best debut historical romance I've read in a long, long time, and I'm looking forward to seeing where Kalen goes from here.