Caitlin Crews’s Imprisoned By the Greek’s Ring is a cautionary tale about revenge, a redemptive story of two broken people learning to love, and a sly meta-romance. It is outlandish, exaggerated, high strung, and over-the-top. Its premise is unlikely; its romance, hyperbolic; its hero and heroine, made of clichés and uberness. In a nutshell, it’s an HP romance and delivered exactly what I sought: an immersive id-reading experience. It is apropos that it kept me up till the wee hours and I crawled into work (looking quite deceptively crisp and business-like, with a string of meetings to plan for and endure) with major bleary-eyed book hangover. (And to whomever left espressos and stickie buns in the common room, you have my eternal gratitude.) Crews is one of the masters of the genre and she drew me in (it took some work) and left me on the bank and shoal of time, happy to have spent a few hours with her visceral characters and plot.
Imprisoned By the Greek’s Ring is typical HP stuff, made of a Minotaur-invaded narrative maze of improbability and dark, rich emotion. Atlas Chariton is released from prison ten years after serving time for murdering the Worth heiress. Except he didn’t kill Phillipa Worth. The prosecution’s star witness, Phillipa’s Cinderella cousin, Lexi Haring, testified otherwise. Atlas is out and out for revenge against the Worths, against Lexi, who is stowed away in a shabby office on the Worth estate, taking care of family business drudge-work, barely scraping by. Atlas has a nefarious plan: he discovered that Lexi is as much an heiress as Phillipa. He will force/blackmail/coerce Lexi to marry him, and reveal the fortune the Worths have thus far hidden from her: this way, he can destroy the Worths and make Lexi miserable. Win-win! Maybe he’ll finally have some relief from the rage that consumes his every waking moment.
Atlas and Lexi have the usual misery-fest backstories. Lexi’s parents were drug addicts who left her ” … to raise herself while her parents chased dragons … “. Atlas’s parents were abusive, but he worked and worked and worked until he was running the Worths’ business, which is how he found himself accused of the daughter’s murder. Imprisoned is more Atlas’s story, which Crews unfolds as a cautionary tale against the emotional ravages of seeking revenge. Atlas is driven by, understandably, anger: “Atlas was used to fury. He was used to rage. That black, choking spiral that had threatened to drag him under again and again … ” And my favourite: “… furious was who he was and ever would be. Atlas was fine with that.” We’re fine with it too. Atlas’s anger is righteous and driven by injustice and a deep injury to his worth. He doesn’t care that Lexi is a pawn in his destruction of the Worths and he especially doesn’t care because she allowed them to use her to destroy him. His rage against her is bitter and sexy: ” ‘You have no idea how angry I am, little girl … But you will. Believe me, you will.’ ”
In the meanwhile, Lexi loved Atlas then and loves him yet. Their confrontations are made of Atlas’s fury and Lexi’s apologies. After a while, however, she stops apologizing for speaking what she believed, at the time, was the truth. If Atlas is innocent, so is Lexi, even if her suffering cannot reach the depths and heights of his. It was, I admit, hard to buy Atlas’s response to his experiences. His business success, out of prison no less, his sangfroid, and his sheer handling of life cannot be possible given the trauma he endured. And this is the problem with the smorgasbord of trauma that romance imposes on its protagonists. Atlas’s anger is believable; his coping is not. This took me out of the romance.
What kept me IN was Crew’s writing and being swept away by Atlas and Lexi’s antagonistic, glorious marriage of convenience. They were intelligent equals, able to speak truth and hold their own. Their marriage bed said what they couldn’t in Atlas’s case and wouldn’t in Lexi’s. Crews makes their relationship so emotionally rich that I was able to overlook the overblown premise. Crews also brought Atlas back from the brink in a clever, interesting way. She made Atlas grapple with feelings he couldn’t name as a way of showing the road to his healing. When he was hurtful towards Lexi, for example, he pushed his emotional engagement away, not looking at it, not identifying it: ” … something in the way she looked at him made a most unpleasant sensation unwind, deep inside him, almost as if – But no. Atlas didn’t do shame.”
Lexi and Atlas took on flesh and I cared about them and wanted them to be together. I also couldn’t resist Crews’s ironic meta-romance commentary: ” ‘You ought to write for Mills and Boon.’ ‘My understanding is that romance novels come with a happy ending.’ Atlas had replied smoothly. Horribly. ‘This, Lexi, is life. Not a romance novel … ‘ ” Even though it was late and I was super-tired, exchanges like this elicited a sly smile. In the end, while Miss Austen may be scandalized by the visceral love scenes, I loved Imprisoned and would say that it shows “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.
Caitlin Crews’s Imprisoned By the Greek’s Ring is published by Harlequin Books. It was released on March 20th and may be found at your preferred vendors. I received an e-ARC from Harlequin, via Netgalley.