Pros: Extremely well-developed characters emotionally; very easy to relate to both the men and women.
Cons: Not all readers may enjoy reading about the sharper pleasures that the characters enjoy.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Review book courtesy of Penguin Group
The Order of Solace is an organization of women trained in the arts of pleasure and service. Those in need of solace can request a Handmaiden, and it will be her responsibility to serve her patron until he or she finds at least a moment of solace, at which time her service to them is over. Three men, the Crown Prince of Firth and his two friends, each request a Handmaiden one after the other. A dark moment in their past has affected them throughout the course of their lives, leaving them emotionally damaged. Can these three Handmaidens bring them the solace they so deeply crave?
The idea that a relationship can be used as a means to heal another person is one that has fascinated me for a long time. It takes a lot of experience to know when to push an issue and when to let something go. I was very curious to see how this complexity would work itself out in this book, because if a Handmaiden does something drastically wrong, she could possibly leave a patron worse off than when she had come to them. Each Handmaiden that we get to read about is fairly experienced with different patrons and their needs before she begins the assignment we are reading about. I did enjoy the fact that each of the Handmaidens had different approaches to and feelings about their assignments, which kept these three stories from feeling like carbon copies of each other with recycled characters.
Ms. Hart has an absolute genius for creating damaged men that still manage to function in their lives. Two of the male characters, Cillian and Edward, were friends when they were younger but a tragedy has changed their friendship. Guilt and loyalty compete with wanting the friendship to return to what it was, and watching these emotions play out between the two makes for some very emotionally moving scenes between them, written in such a way that they didn’t feel trite.
Another element that felt really fresh to me was the idea that Handmaidens are supposed to put the well-being of their patrons above their own desires. I have become so used to watching romance heroes and heroines bump heads and work at cross purposes that watching a couple work together for a professed common goal without exaggerated histrionics is a very welcome breath of fresh air.
One thing that I wished I could have gotten more of from the stories was a better picture of the religion. A brief overview of the relevant myth is given, but I would like to know a bit more of how it has shaped not only the Handmaidens and their job, but the society as well. There is another Order of Solace book in print, a full novel instead of three novellas, and I certainly plan on giving it a read, so maybe it will answer some of my questions.
Another thing that readers should be aware of before picking this up is that some of the styles of sexuality are not those typically found in romance novels. The characters enjoy some of the sharper pleasures, but the stories are no less moving because of that. In fact, some of the stories are more so, because this element adds another layer of conflict to what is already going on. The love scenes also don’t feel gratuitous or voyeuristic, rather they feel as if the characters are behaving true to themselves. I thought that they were elegantly done.
This book got me deeper into the heads if its characters than any book has in a very long time. I adored being absorbed into the world and its premise while watching the growth and healing of characters who very quickly came to mean a great deal to me. The sexual moments, while not always the typical fare, were handled with taste. I very much look forward to devouring and reviewing the next book in the series. In the meantime though, this book has without a doubt earned a spot on my keeper shelf.