DREAMING OF YOU (Gamblers #2) by Lisa Kleypas
Mass Market Paperback, 373 pages
Published May 1st 1994 by Avon Books
Genre: historical romance novel
Rating: 5 stars
I enjoyed Dreaming Of You for many reasons: for the love story (which is so challenged and hindered by all kinds of obstacles, including the male protagonist's refusal to form any emotional attachment with any woman), for the romance and the sensuality (although the male hero will resists any emotional or physical connection with the heroine for a good part of the book), for the heartwarming 'happily ever after', but most of all for the powerful characterization of the male hero.
“A man of ruined potential”: this is how Derek Craven is described by his trustworthy and loyal factotum, Mr Worthy. The strength and the depth of this male character, his personal quest from rugs to riches, his loneliness, the hardships he has to face due to his low origins, are so compelling that for me they overshadow even the love story between him and the heroine. Derek has accumulated wealth beyond belief, achieving a status of power that would make the bluest and most ancient English bloodlines pale in comparison. And yet, he is the most lonely and scarred men on earth.
The beauty of some historical romance novels (and Ms. Kleypas is a master in this field) is that, beyond the storyline evolving around the matters of the heart, they provide a surprisingly clever analysis of the social issues related to their historical background: the rise of a new social class as a consequence of the industrial revolution (the self-made men, outsider heroes of many a novel by Lisa Kleypas), the new role of the aristocracy in a climate of profound social and economic changes, the “wealth within reach” offered by the New World, a new set of moral patterns and values shifting from the restrictive stiffness of the upper classes to the much more liberal and unrestrained social behavior of the new comers, not to mention the new position of women in society.
The social shifts defining the British Empire during the 1800s were of such a magnitude that, in the fictional but plausible world of Ms. Kleypas’ historical romance Dreaming Of You, even a man without a past, without roots or education, without blue blood or family wealth, born to a prostitute and abandoned in a drainpipe at birth, raised by other compassionate prostitutes in bawdy houses, nursed on gin, and put to work as a chimney sweeper at a very young age, gigolo for necessity, can turn into an extremely wealthy, incredibly powerful and tremendously ruthless man of consequence. Yet, the immense wealth he has accumulated is not enough to erase his humble origins and what is worse, it is not enough to numb his self-disgust. He remains an outcast in the eyes of a society that welcomes his money and enterprises, but will keep him at distance. He denies himself every chance of real emotional connection, because he considers himself undeserving of love.
What a challenge to create a romance around such a strong and impenetrable male character ! Not the usual aristocratic knight in shining armor or the good-hearted reformed rake, Derek is the hardest, roughest, darkest, and most edgy “hero” you could encounter in a romance novel. Ruthless to the core, embittered by a life of brutal deprivation, alone since he was an infant, he will open up and yield only to a woman “strong, wise, and patient enough to qualify for sainthood”. And here comes Sara, Derek’s only chance of redemption. She is untouched by vice and sin, an angel (like he uses to call her here and there throughout the book) fallen in the filthy backstreets of his gambling club to rescue his body from a horrible disfigurement, if not death, and his soul from isolation and spiritual numbness.
The highest moment of the novel (***LITTLE SPOILER HERE***), the final family scenes: Derek holding his woman after the fire that has destroyed his club, him doting on his beloved daughter in a moment of utter tenderness, his soul finally in peace with himself and the world.