Once again author J.L. Merrow takes us back to the seaside village of Porthkennack and into the dysfunctional lives of the wealthy Roscarrock family. Those familiar with the two previous Porthkennack books Merrow has delivered will see the familiar cast of characters return in Love At First Hate with the spotlight turning on Bran, the eldest of the three siblings. In the other books, Bran was the man to despise, primarily due to the fact that he put family name and honor above all else—even if it meant that his siblings, their offspring, and members of the town suffered as a result. Bran gives the appearance of a harsh man shaped by an ever harsher father who had drilled it into his son that the family business and legacy must always come first over personal happiness. So when the curator of his pet project highlighting the Black Prince, Edward of Woodstock, steps down, it’s his brother Jory who Bran turns to for help.
Jory calls on his friend, Sam Ferreira, to take over the project. Sam is desperate for the job having run up gambling debts that are threatening to swallow him alive after being disgraced and tossed out of the academic arena due to a scandal that was not of his own making, but ruined his career nonetheless. Sam begins work on the project not knowing that Jory hasn’t informed Bran of Sam’s checkered past. Bran, who is recovering from being physically beaten, robbed, and then contracting pneumonia, has no idea who Sam is other than that he despises the man on sight and the feeling seems mutual. But Bran has more than one secret he fears being revealed and Sam just might be his undoing. The real question is could the passionate dislike both men feel be something more; after all, there is a fine line between love and hate.
First, I must applaud this author for taking a real bastard of a character such as Bran and actually making him into someone who one can actually pity and eventually feel kindness toward. In the previous two novels, Bran is presented as a hard, cold individual and we get little to no background on why he is the way he is other than that he was the heir apparent and molded into a formidable likeness of his own hard-hearted father. Through a series of flashbacks, we begin to see just who Bran really is—a man that hides fear and self-doubt behind a veneer of snobbish disdain. As the story progresses, we see a different side of Bran emerge all due to Sam, who himself is riddled with anxiety over his gambling debts and avoiding repeating his lousy record of trusting and falling for men who use him pitifully. Sam is everything Bran is not—light to Bran’s darkness. Their animosity turns to heated attraction, but Sam is no fool and will not repeat the disastrous mistakes he made with his former lover. Bran is therefore faced with a huge decision—one that will expose him to possible derision and scorn from the very community he has fought to maintain a rigid control over his entire life.
I appreciated how Merrow made Bran thaw, but not completely change. He admits to Sam that he will try not to be so harshly judgmental and leap to conclusions without all the facts, but stops short of promising that type of conflict may never affect them again. While there is definite change on Bran’s part is it a realistic thaw, if you will, not a complete about face that would have seemed forced and unrealistic given Bran’s past behavior. I will say that Bran’s twin, Bea, remains a rather mysterious figure and we never really get a sense of what compels her continued frostiness. We do get a window into her past, as well, that explains a great deal, but the way in which she treats Bran and Jory seems so stilted and angry. I wish the author had chosen to reveal a bit more about why she remains such a rigid person despite the passage of so much time. Bran spent a great deal of time wondering why she was so distant and secretive and we never really got to the bottom of his concerns and that left her character unresolved for me and a bit disappointing.
Fans of this series will enjoy visiting Porthkennack again and seeing yet another member of the Roscarrock family revealed for who they really are. I would imagine this may be the last time we visit with this family and, if that is the case, J.L. Merrow did a lovely job of tying up the loose ends with her latest story, Love At First Hate.