Usually, I try to avoid picking out books that are the latest in a series since the foundations for the characters and the underlying arc are already well established by the time book four rolls around. However, in Passion Wears Pearls I was surprised at how well this book stood on its own and how little I regretted that I had not read the three titles before it. The tie that binds this series together is the story of eight men who were wrongly imprisoned during the Indian Rebellion of 1857 and how they escaped together to form a cadre known as "The Jaded."
I liked the character of Eleanor. She is the classic example of book-smart over street-smart, but her naiveté never crosses over the line into stupid territory. Growing up, her only goal was to become a proper young woman who would be accepted within polite society despite her family being of the middle class. She reads etiquette books as bedtime stories; she keeps her head held high as she barely stays off the streets working as a shop girl in a grittier part of London. She has a rude awakening to the seedier side of how a young woman alone makes a living, but fortunately Josiah Hastings saves her from ruin just in time.
For artist Josiah, his meeting with Eleanor is nothing short of divine intervention, coming at the moment when he feels he cannot get lower. Since his youngest days Josiah was inspired to make art, expressing on canvas the beauty he found in the world. His quest for new inspirations led him to India, but his timing was terrible; he was caught in an uprising, becoming imprisoned in a dark dungeon for years. A year after his escape, Josiah's world is being plunged back into darkness when he discovers his eyesight is degenerating and he is slowly losing the ability to see colors. When he saves Eleanor from her would-be rapist, he is immediately struck by how her image is bright and colorful against the shades of grey that had taken over his world. He immediately proposes a business contract with Eleanor that completely skirts propriety: Model for him and she will be paid enough to become independent. Her agreement to his proposal puts the two of them into close company for weeks and through this time they slowly begin to open themselves up to one another.
I appreciated the time that the author took to develop the relationship between Eleanor and Josiah. The first few modeling sessions are tense affairs as Eleanor is still fighting to remain proper in a very improper environment. Josiah is enamored by his new muse's beauty, but in talking with her he starts to know her mind as well and it makes her appeal that much richer. When they do come together, the passion they express is intense.
As this was a new author to me, there were some writing choices that I had to get used to. Bernard's style for her character's thoughts was a bit different; having both Josiah and Eleanor “talk” to themselves in italicized inner monologues became a bit distracting. She also switches character point-of-view from one paragraph to the next causing me to pause just to be sure I knew who was doing what. The hardest for me was how she flirts dangerously close to purple-prose during the most intimate scenes between her characters. I almost wish she had put down the thesaurus and just used plain speak for these parts.
Fans of the "Jaded Gentlemen" series might be frustrated with how little progress seems to be made in the efforts to flush out the villain or discover exactly what the treasure is. Not having any prior knowledge of the series, this part of the book didn't carry the suspense level it should have for me. I longed for the author to take pity on a new reader and give me at least an extra page or two of background information of exactly what had happened to these men other than the vague idea that they were imprisoned, escaped, and took some valuable jewels with them.
With all that said, while I may not go back to revisit the three men whose stories have been told, I am glad to have read Josiah's story as an introduction to the series. And I found enough to enjoy in Passion Wears Pearls that I'm ready to move forward and learn more of the men still looking for love, to see exactly how the Jaded will defeat the man they dubbed the Jackal and how each will find peace in their resumed lives in England.
~Reviewed by Sara Anne Elliott