Claiming The Courtesan
by Anna Campbell
(Avon, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-06-123491-5
Let me start right off by saying that new author Anna Campbell has a voice and she is very good at putting down on paper what she wants to say. Her descriptions are vivid without being overblown, and she has a way of crafting scenes that makes them fun to read. It was this glimpse of an excellent storyteller in Claiming the Courtesan My biggest issue was that the heroine was a courtesan and had been for years. And the hero was a duke who acted with disdain most of the time and rudeness and downright savagery at other times. The fact that these two had terrible childhoods that supposedly gave them no choice was not enough for me.

Soraya, a.k.a. Verity Ashton, is the mistress of Justin, Duke of Kylemore and has been for a year. Prior to that she was kept by an elderly man who introduced her to the London area, and she took up with young Lord Mallory before succumbing to Kylemore’s fortune that he threw at her. She became a kept woman after her parents died and she was almost raped by the nephew of the elderly man. “To protect her,” he made her his mistress and treated her very nicely. She was able to send her younger sister to school and help her younger brother get work. When she created a sensation in London, she was very picky of whom she choose as a protector and only let the Duke in her midst after he promised to pay her an extravagant amount of money. It is the end of their first year and she has decided to use the clause in her contract that says she is free after the year ends. She just fails to tell the Duke she is leaving.

The Duke, meanwhile, has cooked up a scheme to thwart his mother, an abhorrent woman who we learn is power hungry and downright cruel. He asks Soraya to marry him. She refuses. When he returns to try again, he finds her gone. He goes a bit crazy and searches until he finds her. When he does, in a little village where she has retired as a “widow,” he kidnaps her and takes her to a remote hunting lodge in Scotland.

Despite the fact that he threatens her and rapes her and generally treats her like scum, they start to discover each other’s secrets and because of that vulnerability, they fall in love. But while the Duke sees a future, Verity sees no hope of a Duke and a whore ever making a marriage together.

There are many similarities to the style that was popular years ago, in books by Rosemary Rogers and others, where the hero acted like a brute but ultimately everything he did was out of love and the heroine ended up falling at his feet. The fact that neither of the two is likable for the first 100 pages makes it hard to feel connected. Soraya is cold and keeps herself distant from her emotions, while Verity is a naïve chit who still has her innocence. At least that is the defensive mechanism Verity has used to stay sane. It is rather hard for me to buy it. The Duke had a terrible childhood and given that his father was literally insane and his mother is worse than any villain you can think of, it is a wonder that he is anything but cruel. I had a hard time buying the excuse for his behavior. Rape is rape and I struggled with his manipulations that he called “love.”

I can’t recommend Claiming the Courtesan. I struggled to get through it and the ending seemed drawn out. I was not enthralled that things worked out in the end. But I also realize others may see it differently and with the strength of the writing, it may be acceptable to some. I won’t give up completely on Anna Campbell but I hope she moves her stories in a different direction next time.

--Shirley Lyons

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