I was fortunate enough on Twitter to win a copy of this book, the debut historical by author Tiffany Clare, and I was very excited by that because I had read a really fabulous review of this book at The Romance Dish, and I wanted it experience it for myself. The story sounded bold, exciting, romantic. I was prepared for some difficult scenes, and knew I might find myself a little bit uncomfortable about the events that take place in this book, but I wasn't daunted. In fact, I was fully prepared to step outside my beloved comfort zone and be blown away.
Right from the first page, we experience Lady Elena's gut-wrenching fear and desperation. She's just found out that her good-for-nothing husband has sold her to some unscrupulous people, and she cannot fathom exactly what that means, only that there's a huge weight in the pit of her stomach, and she has a baby to take worry about. Elena is forced into the slave market, a filthy humiliating place where humanity is not worth the a damn. Rudely poked and prodded like a piece of livestock, Elena soon discovers that being a slave is lower than being an animal. The horrors she encounters are unfathomable, yet this has become her existence. Fortunately - depending upon how you look at it - she is almost immediately purchased by a man who transports her, blindfolded, to a Turkish harem on the island of Corfu.
Fearful for the whereabouts of her baby son, Elena is relieved to soon be reunited with her young child, who has also been brought to the harem as the perfect means to control Elena. At this point, she knows without a doubt that her options are severely limited, and she has no choice but to accept the uncertain fate that has been presented to her if she wishes to survive. Gently but firmly, Elena is initiated into the ways of the harem, determined to make a secure home for her child. No longer a lady, she is now the seductress Jinan, and embarks on her new life with bravery and conviction. She is a woman who will not let shame break her. Jinan is a woman in charge of her own destiny, and embraces it boldly.
Years later, a man from Elena's past comes to the harem, and is immediately drawn in by her sensuous, familiar laughter. Griffin Summerfield at one time cared very deeply for the young woman he remembers, and seeing her again after all this time brings back those tender feelings, as well as the more base feelings of lust and possession. He never understood what caused her to marry another man, but now he has an opportunity to be with her again, and he's not willing to let her go this time. But can he convince the woman of his dreams that together they can start fresh and build a new life together with her son? Griffin must fight for everything he believes in if he wishe sto claim the woman he loves....
The first impression I had when I started reading this book was how vivid Ms. Clare's descriptions were. As I stated earlier, the premise was bold, evocative, extremely compelling. I felt drawn in right from the first words on the page. I could practically smell and taste Elena's bitter fear, hear the painful pounding of her heartbeat beating in my own ears when she realized there was no way out of the situation but was still desperately trying to come up with an escape just the same in order to protect her son. I felt her hot shame at being treated with such a lack of respect and decency. No one should have to be made to feel like less than a person, yet this is the awful treatment Elena had to endure because of the selfish addictions of her own husband. Ms. Clare lets us see how ugly this is for Elena, a defenseless woman with an innocent child she will protect at all costs.
When Elena finally arrives in Corfu and ultimately discovers what her future will hold, I was somewhat disappointed to see that this is when the door closed in our faces. We don't see her completely metamorphose into Jinan; instead we just get a hint of what is in store for her. Yet at the same time, I understood her transformation wasn't something we needed to experience in full detail. It was enough to know she'd accepted her fate with dignity and determination rather than revulsion and feelings of degradation. She was in control of her destiny. So by the time we next see her, she's already existed in her new life as Jinan for quite some time, and has gained a new confidence from it, which has her very sought out by the rich men who desire to purchase her favors.
Now, enter Griffin. This, sadly, is when everything headed downhill for me. I disliked Griffin almost right from the start, feeling he was a slave to his previous addictions - brought on it seems due to losing Elena so long ago and an echo of her own husband's weaknesses - and also spoiled because of his own place in high society. He had a strong sense of entitlement which often tended to rub me the wrong way. My negative feelings only intensified the longer Griffin was in the picture. During the allotted time he had purchased Jinan for, he was absent for the majority of it on business, therefore not convincing me that there was enough of a connection established beyond the physical to sustain an everlasting relationship, despite their history together.
But what really sealed Griffin's fate and ruined the book for me completely was his abduction of Jinan/Elena. Both his actions and his words smacked sharply of those of a stalker, or that of a jealous boyfriend who would rather kill his own girlfriend than let another man have her. Griffin explained his behavior away believing it was "his right' to have Elena, that he "deserved" to be happy, regardless of her wishes and fears. He made me so angry at how he justified his rash and cruel treatment of a woman he claimed to love, forcibly locking her up and keeping her away from her own child because he was too possessive and selfish to care. He truly had himself convinced that Jinan would soon see that he was right. His behavior was abhorrent to me.
Another thing I think changed for me too was that in the beginning, we believe Jinan has become this proud, independent woman who is coveted by many men, a fact she doesn't let shame her, yet once Griffin appears on the scene, all of her experiences as a harem girl now seem tainted. She no longer seems the intrepid, bold seductress, but rather gives us the point of view of a meek woman who loathes herself everytime she's up on the auction block. I felt Griffin colored her outlook and made her feel unworthy of love and affection because of the circumstances she was forced to endure. He made her doubt herself, or at least this is the woman she now appears to be once he's made an appearance back in her life. And I resented Elena for believing she loved him back. I truly didn't understand why.
What kept this book from being a DNF for me was that I just had to see it through to the bitter end. I felt rung out emotionally, overwhelmingly disgusted with Griffin as the man for Elena, and saddened that a plot with such promise failed to engage me in any positive way. Yet I do feel a sense of fulfillment that I read the book and didn't leave any doubt as to the outcome.
Admittedly, it took me quite awhile to write this review. I set the book aside for weeks because I was unable to express myself rationally enough for my own comfort. I do want to stress that I believe Tiffany Clare does have a wonderful imagination and an amazing talent for evoking incredibly strong emotions, as I've evidently pointed out in this review, and I do believe that is sufficient enough reason for me to read her next story, hopefully with more positive results. But "Surrender of a Lady" was just not a satisfying read for me, and that is mainly because of the lack of a strong, heroic male lead I could respect and root for. I can only hope her next book provides me with a different scenario.Rating: *** out of *****