You see, it’s like this: remember how horrible the hero of Claiming the Courtesan was and how much he lacked any sense of gallantry or consideration in the first half of the novel? Well, that’s because Anna Campbell saved it all up for Matthew, the hero of Untouched. Matthew embodies pretty much every trait I typically love about Regency heroes—sometimes perhaps too much—and it’s no wonder that Untouched won the ARRC award for Favourite historical romance for 2008.
On her way to meet her cousin, Grace Paget is abducted and wakes up to find that she’s been mistaken for a prostitute and is expected to be a sex slave to Matthew, the Marquess of Sheene. Although Matthew seems like a kind man, he can’t help Grace because he himself has been held captive for 11 years by a greedy uncle who doesn’t wish to relinquish control of Matthew’s fortune. At first, Matthew suspects that Grace has been sent by his uncle, but as he realises that she’s truly an innocent victim in his uncle’s machinations, Matthew struggles to resist their growing attraction.
Grace begins to understand the horrors that Matthew endured at his uncle’s hands. Although she’s drawn to Matthew, she knows that it may destroy him to capitulate to his uncle’s plans. Eventually, the choice is taken out of her hands when she’s given an ultimatum: seduce Matthew or be killed. But seduction has its own price. How can Matthew bear to let Grace become a pawn in his uncle’s games? And how can Grace escape their prison if it means leaving Matthew behind?
This might sound strange, but one of the things I love about Untouched is the pace of the story. Having Grace and Matthew stranded in a castle with nothing to do but constantly run into each other sounds like a recipe for boredom (and rabbit sex). But Campbell weaves secondary characters in and out seamlessly in order to keep the story moving and the conflicts escalating. The external plot isn’t subtle—the villains are almost ostentatious in their villainry—but it frames the romance quite well. The only time I felt the story drag a little was towards the end when a lot of the action was off-page, and that was mostly around resolving the external plot.
I didn’t warm up to Grace until the scene where she clumsily attempts to seduce Matthew. I found her a bit naive at the start, although she wasn’t unrealistic. The real appeal of this story is Matthew. And yes, he’s quite the martyr, but he’s also not a stupid martyr. He’s usually fairly realistic about what he can or can’t do to change his situation. And Grace, once she calms down and we start seeing her relationship with Matthew develop, actually becomes rather charming.
He recoiled as if she hurt him, although the wound had long ago knitted. “Grace, don’t,” he hissed in warning.
She leaned her cheek into his back. “I want to do this.”
“My scars should disgust you,” he said hoarsely. His long muscles were hard as iron with tension and shame.
“Never,” she said softly, her voice thick with emotion. “These are marks of bravery, Matthew. Wear them with pride. They make you the man you are, the man I love with all my heart.”
The Virgin Hero
Since Matthew has been imprisoned since he was 14 , he’s never had sex. Bringing him a prostitute was to be his uncle’s way of manipulating him, keeping him appeased. Matthew takes his small victories where he can and has resolved not to give in to his uncle’s wishes no matter how tempting the woman might be. The virgin hero isn’t a character we usually see in romance, and especially not in historicals, and at the start I wondered how Campbell would deal with this issue. The result is partly disappointing yet partly, well, a non-issue for me.
Look, if I were being realistic, I’d have an problem with how much self-control Matthew seems to have, considering Grace is the first woman he’s laid eyes on since he was 14, and also since he’s attracted to her from the start. Maybe having been tortured for 11 years has given him great powers of endurance and mental control. Even so, I don’t always buy his reactions to being in quite provocative situations with her. The first time they have sex isn’t all roses and orgasms, but even then, the whole thing struck me as overly romanticised. When Matthew then gets creative … well, I’m not sure he would’ve learned that much from his school buddies at 14. Then again, I suppose he may well have learned a lot, what do I know?
And it’s not just about sex. Matthew is remarkably mature for someone who’s been isolated from civilisation since he was a teenager. I can’t help wondering if that would’ve had a much deeper psychological impact than is portrayed in the book.
In the end, it all does become a bit fantastical. Grace is a widow, but she’s never been sexually satisfied, and yet Matthew finds the magic touch on his second attempt: “How strange that this untried youth taught the widow about sensuality.”
But the thing is, I don’t really care either. This bit of fantasy doesn’t detract from how much I enjoyed the story, and in fact it made me love Matthew more.So there you go. Realism is overrated.
Yay or nay?
If you like your heroes pure of heart, chivalrous, and without a skanky past, you’ll probably enjoy Untouched. If you’re wary of Campbell because of the controversy around her first book, you’ll find Untouched a much safer bet.
Where you can buy this book
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