Grand Central Publishing, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-446-54208-1
Historical Romance, 2010
Barely a Lady may be Eileen Dreyer’s debut historical romance for Grand Central Publishing’s Forever line, but the author has been writing since the 1980’s under the name Kathleen Korbel. It’s quite a shame that this book doesn’t work for me because the plot is something different for a change despite the plethora of clichéd elements littering the scene, and I actually want to like this book. Ah well. At any rate, I will be going into some major spoilers in this story in order to explain why it doesn’t work for me, so be a dear and stop reading at this point if you don’t want your eyes to be tainted by dirty little spoilers. Well, you’ve been warned.
Five years ago, Olivia Grace was kicked out and divorced by her husband Jack Wyndham, the Earl of Gracechurch, due to a plot straight out of a soap opera. You have to read it to believe it, I have to say, because it’s pretty over the top. Today, Olivia is playing the companion to some young lady in Brussels, when she meets new friends and subsequently gets involved in a series of events that reunite her with Jack. Only, she encounters Jack in the battlefield, with him wounded and all, and worse, he’s wearing the French uniform. Despite the fact that he kicked her out when she was pregnant and forced her to live in poverty after the baby died, after calling her some of the worst things ever, Olivia hides his uniform. Conveniently enough, Jack comes to with no memories of the last five years. Olivia and her new friends decide to keep him around until he remembers his past and they discover why he’s wearing French uniform.
But because they believe that any attempt to forcefully make him remember his past can cause his brain to go kaboom, these ladies sit around and wait. And wait. And wait. In the meantime, Jack is perpetually horny and he wants some TLC from Olivia, who naturally comes this close to succumbing until she realizes that maybe it isn’t a good idea to spread for the bastard who made her last five years a living hell. By this point – which is pretty much the whole sagging middle of this book – I find myself yawning and wondering when the other shoe will drop.
Finally, she decides to give in, forgetting that the hoochie of a romance heroine can do amazing things like reanimating the dead, causing the Red Sea to part… and restoring the memories of a rat-ass bastard. So here is another Post-Sex Dramatic Revelation clichéd “twist”, with Jack reverting to his rat-ass bastard ways while Olivia stiffens her spine, keeps all her rage balled up within, and nominates herself for the Balogh Idol tournament. Finally, finally, order is restored when Jack realizes that (a) his cousin is the villain who twisted him around like the rat-ass bastard puppet that he is and (b) his mistress, whom he decides is a far more superior shag pincushion than Olivia, turns out to be evil too. Jack is like, “Oh, I’m so sorry!” and the heroine is like, oh well, she’s long forgiven him.
The sagging middle where the characters all waste time waiting for Jack to grow back his whiskers and pointed ears aside, the heroine is… well, I have to hand it to whoever comes up with the title of this book: it’s an accurate title. Olivia is Barely a Lady: she’s barely human! She’s a freaking saint to not only take back the rat-ass bastard like that, she also feels attracted to him with unbelievable speed after she encounters him again. If I were in her shoes, I’d find it very hard to forget my dead child and the five years of living in shame after being maligned by him. The last thing I’d do when he starts pawing me is to shudder with desire. More likely, I’d bite that hand and only let go once it’s separated from the wrist. But for Olivia, there is no believable reaction from her with regards to Jack. She feels angry at how people other than Jack treat her and, eventually, she starts making excuses for him. It’s crazy. But then again, I guess that’s what romance heroines should be nowadays – one-dimensional luminous saints who forgive and forget even the biggest rat-ass bastards in the universe because they just cannot resist the siren call of the throbbing pee-pee. Poor me, I’d never be a romance heroine at this rate.
As a pro in the field, Eileen Dreyer has a fine narrative style and I especially like how she portrays the friendship between Olivia and her friends. Yes, there are sequel-bait female characters here, fancy that! And here I am thinking that we have reached a point where only male characters have sequel value. It is very unfortunate that this story is all about Saint Olivia being ridiculously forgiving and Jack the rat-ass bastard getting away with his nonsense far more easily than I’d have liked. Barely a Lady is more like a very artificial morality tract about forgiveness than anything else.