Spending two months at a secluded game reserve where you can get away from all the stresses of the real world, and focus all of your attention solely on creating art? Not to mention the added benefit of the dashing game reserve owner showering you with all of his personal attention. Sounds like paradise. Now…if only I knew how to paint!
What’s it About?
Karen Devitt is a hugely talented artist on the cusp of greatness. Then life cruelly conspires against her. Through love and a sense of duty she neglects her painting, at great cost to herself, and tends to her sick and ailing father. At the same time her brother, in the absence of their father, is forced to take over the family firm which starts to collapse under his stewardship.
Single, and something of a gooseberry, Karen meets the dashing and ruggedly good looking Ralph Corbeck, a wealthy landowner of a prestigious game reserve in southern Africa. He is also a highly regarded businessman and a ruthless investor that has identified and targeted the Devitts failing family business for an aggressive takeover.
From Karen and Ralph’s first encounter emotions run high, and unwittingly, Karen is lured on an artist’s retreat to his game reserve where she stays at his extraordinary chalet, Vundu Lodge. Here, she begins to get an insight into who the real Ralph Corbeck is. Betrayal, deceit, jealousy and love all have their role to play, and the inferno and beauty of the African wilderness fuels their searing and beautiful romance.
With the start of our novel we are presented with a kind of Beauty and the Beast scenario between our female lead, Karen, and our hunky landowner, Ralph. In Karen’s mind Ralph is as beastly as they come. The two had a rather unfortunate first meeting, he supposedly stole away her brother’s fiancée years before, and he has now set his sights on overtaking their family business after their father has fallen ill. Oh, and did I mention that he’s bought their childhood home as well? Karen asks herself what more this brute of a man could possibly want. As it turns out, he demands her presence at his secluded game reserve for a period of two months. Her time there is initiated as an invitation, but before stepping onto the plane she becomes acutely aware of the fact that if she should leave the reserve early, he’ll practically destroy the family legacy her father worked so hard to build. Or…so it would seem.
After arriving at the rolling paradise that is Vundu Lodge, Karen is intent to spend as little time as possible in this beast’s presence. And yet, circumstances of course bring them closer and closer together. She is able to uncover a softer side to this supposed brute, and it throws all of her initial impressions out of whack. Could a man with such passion and caring for his home here possibly be all that bad? Perhaps there is more to this man than meets the eye. It’s not long before Karen starts to fall for this man she was initially determined to hate forever, and she eventually starts to wonder if she could possibly see herself remaining in this remote part of the world that she’s come to care for almost as much as the man who has come to capture her heart.
Perhaps the most enthralling part of this read was the stark juxtaposition of city vs. open plains, as well as the contrast of how beautiful, yet dangerous this landscape could truly be. We become immediately enchanted by this quiet landscape just as Karen does. It can sometimes be hard to imagine a place that is completely void of the encroachment of civilization and modernity, yet for a brief moment the author transports us to this magical place. An area lacking “…billboards or glass window displays, no litter, no fast food outlets, no music, no people – just a dusty road encased by bush and majestic trees with abundant wildlife.”
However, we also see the other side of the coin when it comes to this spectacular paradise seemingly untouched by humanity. The dangers of nature become immediately apparent, from predators stalking their prey, to intense heat, the immorality of poachers, crazy witch doctors, and the endless miles of dry earth stretched in every direction. It’s a give and take to both appreciate the beauty laid out in the wild, yet also take heed of the threats which might be lurking hidden in the bush.
What Happens When You Assume?
Misunderstandings abound throughout this novel, which even hearken back to Ralph and Karen’s first meeting. Things just sort of snowball from there, primarily stemming from Ralph’s involvement in her family’s affairs. It is only after she arrives at Vundu Lodge and the two are able to spend some quality time together that we get a slight reprieve from all the conjecture. Emotions stir, and physical intimacy ensues before everything comes to a crashing halt. Assumptions rise up once again with the introduction of a female character who Karen is convinced means more to Ralph than herself. The end result involves a further building of misunderstanding that neither Ralph nor Karen allow to be explained away by any sort of conversation between them. Karen doesn’t elaborate on why she’s suddenly demanding that Ralph leave her alone, and Ralph doesn’t press for answers. This man, who in the beginning was so demanding of Karen’s presence in his life, now surprisingly demands no explanation as to why her affections so quickly turned back to animosity.
As the story evolves we see a growing distance form between them which becomes increasingly exaggerated with each new assumption Karen garners about what must be going on in Ralph’s life. While this method certainly intensified the overall dramatic nature of the plot, there’s one major flaw with this kind of build-up. It’s frustrating. All of these misconceptions could have been simply explained away with one quick and honest conversation between our two characters, yet they continuously shied away from having any kind of dialogue. As Karen continued to jump from one conclusion to another you wanted to scream at her to openly confront Ralph with what was bothering her, because we all knew there’d be some kind of easy explanation as to what was going on. And that’s ultimately what happens. When all of a character’s fears and doubts can be explained away in one five-minute conversation at the end of the novel, you question why it couldn’t have taken place back when her worries were initially taking shape.
*A copy of this book was provided for an honest review*
Series: Zambezi series, book 1. I’m interested to see what might be in store next for our characters, and this precious oasis which is being threatened by outside forces.
Final Impressions: The majesty of the landscape came across in practically every page, yet so too did its dangers. The animosity/affection between Karen and Ralph was in constant flux throughout the novel, which both added to the dramatic, yet frustrating progression of the story. I was surprised that one side plot didn’t elevate into a more suspenseful story line, as it dealt with jilted lovers and corruption. In the end though it was actually a smart move to refrain from going down that road, as it would have been a stark personality turn for a certain character. That being said it did lend to a building of suspense that seemed to fizzle out a bit. Lo and behold though there’s an even bigger surprise lying in wait. Just when it seems all is well for our characters, we get a surprising last minute introduction of intrigue and a cliffhanger ending that will make you go, “say whaaaaat?”
Smut Level: If you thought the Serengeti was hot, just wait until you see what these two can get up to in a bathtub.
Get it on Amazon: Click Here. £4.07 Kindle Price. Lilford Squire Publishing. 275 Pages