Harlequin Historical, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-29792-4
Historical Romance, 2014
I initially couldn’t make my way past the author’s foreword, where she says this:
Prized, cosseted. celebrated for their appearance alone, I believe beautiful people have fewer opportunities to face their imperfections. I suspect it is more difficult for them to learn and grow into better people.
This is the weirdest apology for being ugly that I’ve ever come across. Hey, I may look like a baboon’s rear end, but I grew and I grew and I grew so I am beautiful inside and, subsequently, a better person that all those emotionally stunted beautiful people! It is only when I accidentally packed this book for a trip instead of another book in this line (the purple spine and motive made these books all look the same when I was in a rush to pack), that I eventually make myself read this book.
The story first. In a previous story – which I haven’t read – Daphne, Lady Faville, chased after some guy and, when she didn’t get him, tried to burn down the Masquerade Club, a gaming hall owned by the guys that make up the author’s series of the same name. After that, she went to some convent, discovered the Covenant of Mary Balogh, and decided to reform. Coming back to London to replace her wardrobe with as many painful hair suits as she can get her hands on, she manages to get herself trapped in a burning building at the start of this story. Our hero Hugh Westleigh comes to her rescue, and is injured in the process. He is temporarily blinded, and Daphne decides to bring him to her home and nurse him back to health. As “Mrs Asher”, she hopes to atone for her sins by helping Hugh, while never letting Hugh know of her identity. You see, Hugh is one of the owners of the Masquerade Club, and his family hate her. But just like how she would inevitably decides that she needs to ride him like it’s a bronco festival – out of true love, for that memory of a lifetime, so she clearly isn’t a skank – the deception would come to a sad end too. Will they find true love, or would Daphne fling herself into the sea while screaming, “Io non gli scendo incontro, io no!”
Seriously, any sane woman would know that sleeping with that guy is a really bad idea, because there’s no way he’s going to get back his sight while seeing her happily bucking on him and say, “Hey, toots, let’s get married!” How about a little self control? But Daphne, like way too many romance heroines, seizes any flimsy excuse to indulge in her lust under the supposition that she’s doing this out of love. It’s not like she’s smart enough to plan, take precautions, or anything like that. I guess, despite her protests of having reformed into a misunderstood saint, she still hasn’t developed some semblance of impulse control. It’s hard to feel sorry for her when the whole thing crumbles around her, therefore.
The bulk of this story is designed around Daphne falling in love with Hugh, only to have to prove to him that she’s worthy of his love because she’s now reformed. This ties in with the author’s agenda – to show me that beautiful people take a longer time than most to better themselves, unlike us lucky ugly people who are already glorious. There is a sense of disconnect here between me and the author, though. Daphne is already repentant and remorseful, so the story is more of a familiar one where the beautiful heroine is still punished despite having changed her ways. Sure, people here have the right to mistrust her, but the author seems to have to overlook one important thing: romance goes two ways – it’s also about whether the hero deserves the heroine as much as it is the other way around.
The author’s biggest misstep here is to have Hugh accuse Daphne of betrayal at the very last minute, just when the story is about to end. The timing is off. It has me thinking that he’s probably going to continue to be suspicious of her for the rest of their relationship, and Daphne is never going to forgive herself as well as a result. What good is a happy ending when there are clearly trust issues between the hero and the heroine? The author is so set on her punish-the-pretty agenda that she doesn’t seem to be concerned that the hero doesn’t trust the heroine much by the last page. I guess the only thing that matters is that the heroine is completely “redeemed”? (Of course, the author can argue that beautiful Hugh may need some time to improve his character too, but come on, he gets a happy ending without having to be the star in a kangaroo court set up by the hero and his family. Their situations aren’t the same and, as usual, all the tough moral standards are applied only to the heroine and rarely to the hero.)
Too bad about the agenda, really, because there is some elegant narrative here. Ultimately, A Lady of Notoriety focuses too much on the heroine trying to prove that she is now reformed, and not enough on making the happily ever after feel believable. Are beautiful women really that much of a blight on one’s sensibilities?