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Anna Durbin
King of Wands
Anna Durbin, author
Lady Julia Lacey’s world collapsed when her abusive husband dragged her from India back to England after a tragic loss. Following his death, she turned her palatial home into a sanctuary for battered wives while she withdrew to quiet seclusion. When a letter bearing joyous news arrives from Calcutta, she vows to return to India to reclaim what she lost, but moving there requires funds. She won’t liquidate her estate, though, until she finds a new refuge for her guests. The insufferable, albeit attractive, vicar she grudgingly appointed to the parish living, has reluctantly offered his help, even though he considers her a raging heretic. She accepts his assistance warily because that means spending time with him. And unfortunately, he’s the one person who reminds her that she’s still a woman. Mr. Charles Rodman’s heart was ripped from his chest years ago by his unfaithful wife. When she died, he resolved to bury his pain with her memory. Now, the staid widower wants nothing more than to minister to his new flock, including his exasperating but beautiful patroness. Though he’s given up trying to convince the impertinent apostate to return to the fold, he still finds himself entangled with her when he’s unexpectedly volunteered to help her raise money for a shelter for abused women. As a servant of God, he must help her, but the last thing he wants is to be around her because she’s the one person who makes him uncomfortably aware that he’s a man. Despite their mutual antagonism, Charles and Julia’s equally mutual attraction heats up when a fiery kiss unleashes a searing passion. Can she allow him into her heart, or would he only break it if he learned her secret? Can he ever trust another woman again, especially this one, or is she too much like his late wife?
Durbin (King of Swords) weaves an unusual, erotic historical romance with tarot themes in this second installment of the Kings of the Tarot series. Though she is a lady of the gentry, Julia Lacey isn’t the typical social butterfly in Regency-era England. Not only is she a widow with a secret philanthropy, she also subscribes to Eastern mysticism, completely appalling the new vicar, Charles Rodman. A widower who espouses conservative beliefs about women’s roles, Charles is nevertheless open-minded enough to listen when Julia challenges everything he’s ever thought to be true. But even as their love blooms, the cards aren’t necessarily drawn in their favor.

Durbin’s occasionally repetitive phrases and situations, particularly in character descriptions, could pull readers away from the story. The broadly sketched characters transcend stereotypical historical romance tropes, delving into little-discussed elements of the time and place. Readers will catch an intriguing glimpse into some of the effects of British colonialism and the power wielded by the wealthy through Charles and Julia’s respective histories and scandals.

Durbin’s strong focus on the effects of domestic violence, the plight of women during the period, and Julia’s celebration of her sexuality without being constrained by societal mores breathes new life into the usual fare, adding depth and novelty to what might otherwise be a boilerplate tale. Julia and Charles have passions other than each other: hers is for helping women in difficult circumstances and his, as a man of the cloth, is tending to his flock of faithful despite the sins of his own past. The complex and nuanced interplay between these two characters makes for a powerful love story.

Takeaway: This richly described love story focuses on passion and second chances, offering a refreshing take on the traditional historical romance.

Great for fans of: Georgette Heyer, Courtney Milan.

Production grades
Cover: A+
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B
Marketing copy: A