Review: The Runaway Countess by Leigh LaValle

The Runaway Countess
I finished this book and immediately started searching out the author’s backlist. I am shocked–shocked, I say!–to find that this is a debut author. It had a few bumps in the beginning, but the overall quality to the writing had a richness of emotion and smoothness to it that I do not often find with a new author. So bravo to her. I was quite impressed.

Enemy (or opponent) romances are always iffy for me. It’s too easy for the characters to take things too far. I don’t want them to fold like a wet noodle, easily switching sides, but I can’t have them going so far in their opposition that it’s impossible for me to believe that they can ever recover from the harshness that has passed between them. LaValle found a perfect balance. Trent and Mazie were at odds for much of the book, but they didn’t spend a lot of time trying to twist the knife. Trent was determined to find out the truth, but he was too honorable and humane to use cruelty to make her talk. Mazie was determined to keep her secrets, but she didn’t hate Trent for doing what he had to do. She may not have enjoyed being locked up and may have wanted to escape, but who wouldn’t in her situation?

I thought the attraction between the characters in the beginning was forced, but once we got passed the awkward start it all flowed beautifully. I so enjoyed watching them fall in love, even though they both knew it was wrong. The tone of the book is serious and emotional, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it angsty. It just had a lovely weight to it that kept me turning the pages quickly, dying to see more of the delicious tension between the leads. I loved the pace that the author set for their relationship. It wasn’t too fast or too slow, it was just right. I had serious reservations about how their HEA would be achieved, but that was due to the positions the plot put them in, not the emotion, or lack thereof, between them.

It felt like a very tangled web by the time we got around to the end. Trent’s reputation and his future position in politics were dependent upon him capturing the highwayman, so it couldn’t just be brushed aside. Having the hero ruin his life and being made a laughing stock of just so things could go the heroine’s way in the end wouldn’t be a fitting HEA for him. But having the heroine choose the hero over her strong loyalty to the highwayman, leaving him at the mercy of the legal system, wouldn’t have been right either. I just couldn’t figure out how the author could twist things to satisfy everyone. Well, twist things she did. I liked that things weren’t wrapped up nicely and tied with a bow at the end. It made it seem more realistic that way.

Initially I didn’t like Trent as much as I did Mazie. Surprisingly, that flip-flopped by the end of the book. It’s not that I grew to dislike Mazie, I just felt her character wasn’t portrayed quite as well as Trent’s was. Her misdirection plots were weak and the fact that her connection to the highwayman was so easy to see had me grimacing. Did they not even bother to plan for the day one of them might be caught? Those sections made her seem like a little girl playing at an adult game, which I didn’t like. I don’t think I was supposed to see her that way, but that’s how it came across. At other times, though, she was completely wonderful. I loved how she took her freedom in life and refused to feel bad about it.

”I only mean to say that I felt like nobody, and it was terrible. And then, over time, I felt stronger, and I realized I could be anybody. I was no longer bound to a family or a society. I was alone in the best sort of way. I could do anything.

There were no rules anymore.”

Trent, on the other hand, started out feeling rigid. The more I got to know him, the more I sympathized with his honest desire to follow the law at all times. His upbringing and his high regard of his exacting father led him to see things in the extremes of black and white as an adult. I loved watching his growth over the course of the book. He slowly came to see that the law does not protect everyone and that sometimes unlawful acts are caused by an abuse of those in power. His responsibilities weighed heavily on him, so he struggle more than most to reconcile his belief in the absolute justice of the law with the reality of the world.

Power was not freedom, but responsibility. And responsibility was a heavy weight he could never be free of. He was bound in his liberty, chained in his authority.

The beginning was a bit slow and there were a few spots where the story dragged, but I feel that the good heavily outweighs the bad here. The focus stayed almost exclusively on Mazie and Trent throughout the story, but we were pulled into the town enough to get a very nice sense of the community and to meet some interesting side characters. I’ve got to say again, I’m impressed that this is a debut book. I’m very interested in seeing what comes next for this author.

Rating: A-
The Runaway Countess by Leigh LaValle
March 6th 2012 by Samhain
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  1. says

    I so agree with you Catherine, The Runaway Countess was such a pleasant surprise, it was everything and more I was expecting it to be. A truly stellar debut for Leigh Lavalle and I can’t wait to read her next books!

    • says

      I agree, it was a great debut. Way to hit the ground running, huh? I’m eager to read her next book to see if I enjoy it just as much.