Sourcebooks Casablanca, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-4022-5822-0
Historical Romance, 2012
A Lady’s Revenge starts out pretty swimmingly. Guy Trevelyan, a spy who also happens to be the Earl of Helsford, and his buddy break into a French prison to rescue the spy Raven from the villain Valère only to have Guy discover that Raven is actually Cora deBeau, the young woman under the care of his boss spymaster. He and she go way back, since her family took him in when they were children. Therefore, it seems reasonable that he takes Cora in as she recuperates, hiding her in his country estate so that the villain won’t come get her. Of course the villain shows up anyway, although he’s thoughtful enough to ensure that there are plenty of time for Cora and Guy to touch one another and practice their Tai-Chi (no, really).
The historical authenticity of this story feels rather suspect, but I think readers who are particular about this would have frowned when they open the book and discover an Earl playing a spy, and they would probably faint from horror when Guy starts calling Cora “sweetheart” and getting all touchy-freely with her when she has given him no reason to believe that they are going to be more than friends. There is a very modern day feel to the dynamics of the relationship here, making this more like those action movies that just happen to be set in the 19th century, historical accuracy be damned.
However, such stories only work because they go all the way in including plenty of over the top and campy stuff. Here, the story is very laid back for a supposed “historical romantic thriller”. The heroine spends most of her time either recuperating from the villains’ assault or being assaulted by the villains. What a pleasant delight! Cora started out as a pretty promising heroine, determined to do her thing and avenge her dead family, but the author never allows Cora to be more than a victim most of the time. Also, given how Cora gets assaulted in a bewildering consecutive sequence, it makes her and her protectors-cum-comrades seem like incompetent fools. No wonder she gets captured in the beginning!
Worse, Cora also starts to whine that she gave away her virginity to the bad guy while doing her duty, so she is now not pure and clean enough for Guy. Good lord, if she is so concerned about keeping her hoochie clean and shiny for her true love to come inside, why become a spy then? What does she expect? That she’d wear big wacky glasses and awkwardly trail after the bad guy as the theme song of Get Smart plays in the background? Cora never thinks or acts like a spy despite the author telling me that Cora is trained by the best to be the best – Cora acts and feels more like a damsel in distress forced to do disgusting things against her will, and she is now dismayed that she is tainted forever by uncleanliness to be ever worthy of bearing big mighty sons for the hero.
Guy doesn’t think or act like a spy either despite being said to be one of the best as well. He is horrified – shocked! – that a fellow spy may get tortured in the course of duty. He is disgusted and jealous that Cora shared her bed with her target. That he persists in thinking of Cora as “innocent” – using that word to describe her as often as possible – only makes him more creepy. She’s a spy. She does spy stuff, usually on her back because that’s what lady spies do. Live with it, dude – didn’t they teach him this in spy school? Guy also often tries to shield Cora from mean stuff in a high-handed manner, forcing the already disappointing heroine to be even more of a damsel in distress needing protection of the big boys.
Now, I understand why Tracey Devlyn opts to make Cora a spy heroine in name only. I don’t blame her. It’s probably unwise at this early stage of her career to court the disapproval of readers who would go, “Oh my god, the heroine is not a virgin – WHAT A WHORE – I will never accept that this immoral skank of a cow is worthy of the love of that handsome slutty rake of a hero because such a man deserves only the purest heifer of the highest grade
LIKE ME!” Leave the real spy gals to authors who want to commit career suicide, that’s fine. My problem here is that the author starts out making Cora the first type of spy heroine, only to then chicken out and force Cora to conform to the second option. It’s like paying to see Chris Hemsworth strip and dance around a pole only to discover at the last minute that it’s Justin Bieber who would be performing instead.
Also, why write about spies when the hero and the heroine never behave and think like spies? They seem like miserable overgrown emo teenagers whose so-called loyalty to the cause is easily overtaken by their desire to turn the heroine’s now non-existent sexual purity into some kind of fetish, using her sexual history with her target as some kind of handicap that stands in the way of true love. It’s pretty gross, actually. They are supposed to save the world by taking down Napoleon, who is also a racist slaving bastard here, and here they are, composing odes to her torn hymen like it’s the biggest tragedy of mankind. They are spies. Where is their priority? If Napoleon turns out to be into bestiality and they have to wear a gorilla suit to seduce him into shagging them, they should jolly well do so without all that post-duty sex melodrama.
If Tracey Devlyn wants to write about spy heroines who end up doing nothing, okay, I can live with the disappointment. But why write a spy story where the characters don’t even feel a little bit like spies? Why tag the word “thriller” into the description of this book when the story is all about moping and mooching in between the heroine getting assaulted and beaten up? There is nothing thrilling here – no actual scenes of high spy action, no chase capers, no clever break-out moments, nothing. It’s not even like there is any chance that the hero or the heroine may die, so there’s no suspense as well. Okay, there is some suspense when it comes to anticipating how many pages would pass before the heroine needs to be rescued again, but that’s not something to celebrate if you ask me.
Inauthentic, thrill-free, suspense-free, and full of disappointments, A Lady’s Revenge is pretty much a dud from start to finish.