5 stars: There is no question that, for me, this book exemplifies the Historical Romance genre in a way no other has before or since. The richness of the language, the depth of the historical detail, and the skill with which the story is woven, all combine to place this among the best historical novels I have ever read, and at the top of the list in historical romance. I cannot speak highly enough of it. The characters are excellent, with the Earl of Salt Hendon a sharp, arrogant hero, set off and tempered in a truly lovely way by his more even-handed, sweet-natured bride, Jane. The two of them are my favorite of Brant’s pairings, though individually, the Roxtons (of Noble Satyr and the Roxton Family Saga) are my favorite hero and heroine. Likewise, Roxton is my Forevermore Book Boyfriend, but Salt Bride, I judge the better book.
The plot is intricate, at times raw, and emotion is ripped, bleeding, from the hearts of these characters. An enormous amount of growth is required of all characters to reach the satisfying conclusion, and the changes wrought by bitter circumstance make them real, human, in a way that transcends any historical era. The depths to which the villain sinks, and the terrible, terrible harms perpetrated against innocents give weight to the idea of classifying this book as classic historical literary fiction—literature, not “just” romance, even as the romantic themes, the HEA, the hero and heroine, and their supporting cast will satisfy any discerning HistRom reader.
4.5 stars: A very important comeuppance for one of modern HistRom’s best villains, and both redemption and reward for a deserving, long-suffering secondary pair from the world of the Salt Hendons.
I am a sucker for a good villain (which is why I love Roxton and the Earl of Salt Hendon as heroes so well), and if I were the writer, I don’t know if I would have been able to put away Diana St. John for good, even after the merciful justice required at the end of the first book. Her actions and motivations were so reprehensible throughout the first book, her personality so delightfully creepy and her plans so insidious, that I imagine Brant might have been manipulated into writing the sequel by the anti-heroine herself. She was truly the absolute joy of the entire second book. It has been said every villain is the hero of his own story. This was Diana’s story, even more than Antony’s or Caroline’s.
The hero of Salt Redux, Sir Antony, Diana’s brother, and the heroine, Lady Caroline, sister of the hero of the first book, are both sadder but wiser than they were when we left them, better people for it, and better prepared to have an adult relationship. I often write characters who start Chapter One with a broken heart, mostly because I find human beings most interesting after they’ve been bumped around by life a bit. I greatly appreciate seeing “grown-up” HEAs skillfully done.
The plot wasn’t quite as intricate as the first book, nor was the emotion quite as raw in Salt Redux. Still, it is a necessary book I didn’t know I needed. I would have been happy for Salt Bride to forever stand alone in a class by itself, and I do mark the original a cut above Salt Redux, but I am grateful, if only for Antony and Caroline, that Brant created a duology.