Zebra / April 2, 2013 / $6.99 print, $4.99 digital
Abraham Stirling, Lord Rothwell, was a fighter once, a soldier in the Colonies. But Bram returned to London with more nightmares than tales of glory. Now he drowns his senses in the arms of countless women, while his friends, the Hellraisers, ensure he needn't sin alone. Until, that is, the Devil himself grants them each a wish, undoing their camaraderie as they explore their wicked powers. Bram finds himself magically bound to Valeria Livia Corva, the sensuous priestess who raised the Devil the first time—and died to send the demon back. She may be a ghost, but Livia is no angel. The raw passion she witnesses in Bram's memories isn't much different from her behavior when she had a body to enjoy. But it doesn't make it any easier to convince Bram to become a warrior again, lest all London burn. And the fierce desires reawakening within her might just start the blaze.
Third in the Georgian England-set Hellraisers series, Sinner’s Heart follows the tortured Bram Stirling, who’s become magically attached to a Roman ghost, Valeria Livia Corva, a situation which pleases neither of them.
He wanted no dealings with her. “You’re dead. You have choice in abundance.”
“Not in this I don’t,” she snapped. “Dragged around like a mule, tethered to an even bigger ass. A dissolute second son.”
I was new to the series and to the author, but the book provides enough background to generally follow what’s happening in the overall story arc: impending evil doom that must be fought. The twist is that neither hero nor heroine are entirely on the side of the angels.
Livia suffers her ghostly fate as penance for righting wrongs she did in life, and Bram is a bit nastier than your typical romance rake. First, he’s lost his closest friends in various ways (in previous volumes), and feels both grief and guilt over it, which he aims at others as well as at himself. Second, his supernatural power is to bend a person to his will, a talent that is ripe for abuse even though it only works once on any given person. Bram is shown using his talent to convince a woman to be his bed partner for the night, which is sketchy at best. It’s clear she was already inclined in that direction—it’s likely she would have given informed consent as she’s already in his bedroom at the time and speaking as if she wants sex with him—but it was enough to make me wonder about his morals, and what he might have done in the past.
…he held tight to the wild paths. Sin and immorality and indulgence at any cost.
Bram is also very violent; having fought in the French and Indian Wars in America, he’s experienced bloody combat in his past, and has never truly left it behind. He uses violence to suppress emotions he cannot endure.
Prowling around the dummy, he assessed it as if it was an enemy. He feinted. Then swung his blade at the dummy. It hacked into the straw-filled canvas. Bodies felt different from straw—meaty and yielding, until you hit the resistance of bone. Dummies didn’t bleed, either. But if you hit a man just so, his blood would spray across your clothing, your face. He had taken a coarse rag to his skin after one fierce battle near the Niagara River and not known whether the blood staining the water was his or if it belonged to the French soldiers he’d killed. He’d come to learn the feeling of steel meeting flesh. Grew skilled enough to know where to strike a man so that he could no longer run, and how long it took to die from a wound to the stomach. And how much of his own blood he could lose, and still stay alive.
…Restless energy still tightened his muscles, so he strode to the logs. Raised up the tomahawk. Then brought it down, hacking into the wood. Over and over, using the tomahawk like the vicious weapon it was. He chopped away at the fury and despair within him, not stopping even when sweat slicked his body and his arm ached. His own face stared back at him from the log. He redoubled his efforts—hacking himself down, the tomahawk’s blade sinking into his flesh as he destroyed himself. “Bastard,” he snarled. “Deceiver. Betrayer. Villain.”
I think this book might be best appreciated if you’ve read the previous installments and have seen Bram and Livia from other points of view. But regardless, it provides an interesting portrayal of dark and tortured characters.
Learn more about or pre-order a copy of Sinner's Heart by Zoe Archer before its April 16 release:
Victoria Janssen is the author of three novels and numerous short stories. Her World War One-set Spice Brief, May 2012, is titled “Under Her Uniform” and is a tie-in to her novel The Moonlight Mistress. Follow her on Twitter: @victoriajanssen or find out more at victoriajanssen.com.