Evangeline Stone is a young woman who has inherited her parents love and talent for art. Using her mother's maiden name as a pseudonym, she has become a celebrated artist all throughout Europe with her paintings in high demand, but it is her portrait painting that maintains a steady income for her household. Evie's mother died when she was 18, and her heartbroken father followed a few years later, leaving Evie to care for her younger brother and sister. Also living with Evangeline are her longtime companion, Winnie, who is a widow, and Winnie's two teenage sons, as well as an orphaned, illegitimate cousin who no one else would care for. Evie bears a heavy burden of responsibility and takes it very seriously, having made a promise to her mother on her deathbed. Even though Evie has ties to the nobility, she and her family live their lives in relatively quiet anonymity in the English countryside, generally avoiding the exploits of the ton. In spite of that, she has had several men who have tried to play her suitors, but she has never been interested in any of them and is now considered to be well beyond marrying age.
Lord Elliot Armstrong, the Marquis of Rannoch, is known throughout the ton as a cold-hearted, vengeful debaucher. He has long overindulged in nearly every vice known to man, and has a temper to boot. This behavior began when his youthful dreams were crushed by a relationship that went sour. Young and inexperienced at the time, Elliot had been head-over-heels in love with his fiance, Cicely. Unfortunately, she cruelly used and betrayed him, and the whole affair would have ended in a duel had the man Elliot challenged, Godfrey Moore, not been shipped off to India by his family. As it was, Cicely died not long after their betrothal ended, and Elliot was blamed and scandalized by the gossip mongers for everything that had happened. Left heartbroken, Elliot walled himself off from his feelings, but over the years has become increasingly discontent with his rakehell lifestyle.
Elliot has just decided to end a long-standing arrangement with his current mistress who has become gratingly irritating. Unfortunately, she has disappeared, and Elliot must go searching for her in the English countryside. He becomes hopelessly lost and is caught in a deluge of rain. Finally deciding to ask for directions, he comes upon an eclectic-looking old manor house, and is drawn to the warmth emanating from it's windows. The housekeeper who answers the door mistakes Elliot for a long-overdue guest who was coming to have Evangeline paint his portrait, and eagerly welcomes him inside. Elliot is temporarily taken aback by the case of mistaken identity, and when he meets Evangeline, is thoroughly entranced. Fearing that he'll be thrown back out into the pouring rain if he reveals his true identity, Elliot continues the charade and accepts Evangeline's gracious offer to spend the night. He finds himself inexplicably drawn to this beautiful woman and the loving family atmosphere amongst the odd assortment of occupants in this home. Elliot knows that he should tell the truth, but also knows that if he does, he probably would no longer be welcome due his reputation as a blackguard. Deep down he wants nothing more than to spend more time with these delightful people.
And so he does, under the guise of sitting for a portrait. Slowly, Elliot and Evangeline fall in love through a series of shared romantic encounters. The deeper Elliot falls in love, the more afraid he is to reveal himself, for now he has even more to loose. For her part, Evangeline fears that falling in love will distract her from her family obligations, especially to her brother Michael. Nefarious relatives who have previously disowned them are now poised to snatch Michael from Evangeline's custody to be raised as the heir presumptive to the family title. Elliot has his own trouble when Godfrey Moore returns from India, and a showdown between them seems imminent. Then an attempt is made on Godfrey's life and Elliot's former mistress is murdered leaving Elliot as the prime suspect in both crimes which only further complicates his life. Add to that the fact that Elliot's secrets must eventually come out, and you have the makings of an intricately woven story of romance, mystery and intrigue filled with very human emotions at their deepest.
My False Heart was the first book Liz Carlyle wrote and the first book by her that I have read. All I could think of throughout the story and especially after finishing it was that if this is her debut novel, I can't wait to see what else she has to offer in her later works. Ms. Carlyle wrote two absolutely wonderful characters in Elliot and Evangeline, as well as a full complement of secondary characters from friends and relatives to servants. I loved watching Elliot change from a bitter, vengeful, unhappy man to one who had finally found his heart's desire, as well as watching Evie finally learn to rely on someone else instead of feeling like she was all alone in her responsibilities. Elliot was made even more appealing by the inclusion of his daughter, Zoe, and the fact that he loved her deeply, but didn't know how to show it until he met Evie. His interactions with Zoe after that were endearingly awkward, and full of humanity. I adored Evie's eclectic family unit. It was easy to see why Elliot's cold heart was so warmed by all of them. Ms. Carlyle's characterizations made me wish that such a place and family actually existed, so that I might become a member of it too. I found the children to be particularly delightful, and there were even a few adorable pets who played minor roles in helping to set the tone.
All the characters, including the secondary ones, were amazingly well fleshed out. The author makes liberal use of lengthy passages of prose to give readers thorough insights into the characters thoughts and feelings, and to explain their back stories. Ms. Carlyle is masterful at creating truly romantic situations and sexual tension. Even the simplest of kisses became a thoroughly sensual reading experience. The author gives a believable interpretation of two people slowly falling hopelessly and desperately in love. Ms. Carlyle is also masterful at writing completely beautiful and romantic love scenes. She gives the reader the sense that Elliot and Evangeline truly love one another and are not merely lusting after each other in a physical way, as is unfortunately the case with many romance novels. I felt that the characters gave their initial decision great care and consideration and truly gave more of themselves to each other than just their bodies when they made love.
Often, stories that rely on secrets and misunderstandings to create conflict between the hero and heroine can become tedious and annoying, but I found that Ms. Carlyle does such a wonderful job with these elements that they became a believable part of the plot. I like the way that the author slowly feeds the reader bits and pieces of back story as well as the mystery element. It made me keep wanting to come back to the story to find out more about the characters and what happened next. The mystery was done so well that I did not figure it out until shortly before it was revealed in the story and even then, I wasn't sure I had it right until I actually read it. I loved the way that Ms. Carlyle intricately wove many of the secondary characters into the plot, much the way that a spider weaves her web. This made the story much more interesting, as they would often pop up in unexpected places, sometimes adding to the mystery. I really appreciated the author's use of intelligent, as well as historical, words and phrases. I like a story that makes me think, and this one certainly kept me on my toes, with not only it's rich vocabulary, but also it's extensive cast of characters and intricate plot. Ms. Carlyle's use of lush descriptive details transported me to another time and place, making me feel like I was right there watching the events unfold and could feel every emotion that each of the characters felt. Occasionally, I thought that some of the detailed prose could have been pared down just a bit for the sake of conciseness and to pick up the pacing just a little, but overall, I enjoyed the languid nature of the story. I think it really helped to build a believable illusion of the hero and heroine falling in love instead of rushing into it.
While Ms. Carlyle does not seem to officially consider her books to be a series, many of her stories, not surprisingly, have interconnected characters. My False Heart introduces us to Frederica d' Avillez, Evangeline's cousin, who is just a little girl in this story, but who grows up to become the heroine of her own novel, The Devil You Know. It also introduces readers to George Kemble, Elliot's intriguing multi-talented valet, who has such a vast network of acquaintances that he can find out almost any piece of information his employer or anyone else might want to know. Kem currently appears in five more of Ms. Carlyle's novels including A Woman of Virtue, No True Gentleman, The Devil You Know, A Deal with the Devil, and The Devil to Pay. My False Heart was a wonderful book about which I can find little to criticize. I throughly enjoyed reading it, and am anxiously looking forward to reading more of Ms. Carlyle's books as soon as possible. This story was a truly phenomenal first effort from a writer who is clearly incredibly talented, and the book has definitely earned a place on my keeper shelf.
Note: Ms. Carlyle's didn't used to officially consider her books as series, but recently she began grouping them together on her website. My False Heart is now listed as book #1 in the Lorimer Family & Clan Cameron series. However, I would advise readers that Ms. Carlyle's character web is very complex, with past and future characters popping up throughout all of her books. With this in mind, it is my opinion that the reading experience would be greatly enhanced by beginning with Ms. Carlyle's first book, My False Heart, and continuing to read them in their publication order. The entire backlist, in order, can be found on her website.
You May Also Enjoy
The Hope Chest Reviews on Facebook