by Elizabeth Boyle, historical (2002)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-380-82089-7
I'd like to think that Elizabeth Boyle can write. The thing is, her plots and execution always leave much to be desired. If the plot doesn't seem rushed, it seems truncated.
In her latest, One Night Of Passion, she hits an unfortunate all-time low: plot schizophrenia, misunderstandings, a silly miscommunication problem, and scenes that seem truncated and rushed at the same time all collide in a spectacular crash. The resulting mess still holds some charm though, because the main characters, even when they are acting really stupid, have chemistry enough to do a spectacular missile-carrying warship combustion.
Let's talk schizophrenia. This book doesn't seem to know whether it wants to be a silly "Girl needs to lose her hymen NOW" plot or a French spy espionage/British Intelligentsia counterespionage story. On one hand, we have our hero Colin Danvers going undercover by getting (falsely) accused for being a traitor. That way, he and his bosses will get the attention of the mole inside the Intelligence away from him. But this comes with the price of Colin being branded a social pariah. His girlie throws his ring back at him and he is given the direct cut by everyone but the supporting cast who will no doubt get their books in the future. And that's quite many a supporting cast, in case you're wondering.
On the other hand, our heroine Georgiana "Georgie" Escott needs to lose her virginity NOW or she will be married to some unpleasant old geezer whose wives all died under sinister circumstances. She decides to take matters in her own hand. No, I don't mean she sitting on a broomstick - she will attend the Cyprian's Ball and find a guy to deflower her!
A friend commented that at the rate these silly heroines are going, you'll probably never find any genuine Cyprians in those balls. All the women there will be virgins looking for men to deflower them out of their misery.
Anyway, Georgie isn't a too bright woman. When she bumps into Colin (who is there to, er, drown his sorrows in a willing tankard), she is attracted to him, but ohmigosh, he's too decent, and she doesn't want decent. Then when she is ambushed by three men and is about to lose her hymen three times over, she is shocked - SHOCKED! - that such men could be found in such a party. Yeah, the Cyprian's Ball is such a genteel party, you know?
Colin rescues her, they end up making sweet sweet love (innocent virgins do it best, really, and do I hear men and women all over the world snorting in disbelief?). They then part ways, because Georgie is so hurt that he can't read her mind and think her needing his money after the servicing. Or something. But dingbats are all like that.
But it's okay, because the author really manages to bring to life Colin's attraction to Georgie that night. It isn't just the freaky innocence thing, it's the way he feels alive when he takes her hand and they both run like silly kids in the night to some hidden, shadowy corners in the garden to make out. I can see the attraction there, on his part at least.
Cut to a year later (or half the book later, and yes, it really does feel like one year later) when Georgie, disgraced and... uh, you can probably guess the rest, finds herself in Italy where Napoleon's French army storms nearer each day (trust a romance heroine to be right there where disaster is about to strike) and Colin is there too for some espionage thing. Somehow she finds herself abroad Colin's ship, and together they bicker and snog and boink all the way while smoking out evil Frenchies.
The main problem is that this story is founded on coincidences. Colin is the absent guardian who signs Georgie off to marriage to the virgin-mad ugly old coot that necessitates her to go to the Cyprian's Ball in the first place. How coincidental that she meets this absent guardian (she doesn't know he's the guardian at that time) at the ball in time to learn the pokey jitters. Coincidence reunites them a year later, and coincidence of the timing of the initial Cyprian Ball thing leads Colin to suspect her to be a French spy out to smoke him out. And there's more to come, which I couldn't give away without spoiling the story unnecessarily.
Then there's the miscommunciation thing stemming from Colin's suspicion and those two's inability to talk or say the correct things. Wrong things are said at the wrong times, leading to really stupid consequences, such as Georgie shrieking to be let off the ship when the Frenchies are coming close to blowing up the ship - she wants to be let off NOOOOOOOWWWWW, so everyone, stop trying to evade the French and take her down NOW. Georgie and Colin both do really stupid things in the name of furthering the plot. Incidentally, Colin is a lousy spy, period. He is led by his dinkie rather than his brain, and where any reasonable spy will stand back and evaluate his or her suspicions dispassionately, Colin jumps into conclusions in the heat of the moment. Not good, not good at all.
One Night Of Passion, coincidences overload and miscommunications galore aside, also suffer from one of the worst disjointed style of writings I've ever encountered. It swings from being a Dingbat Loses Her Hymen Hee-hee thing to Heavy Duty Spy Thing and back again without any cohesiveness between the two extreme tones of the story. It's quite discordant, how this story switches gear abruptly from light hearted Cinderella does Jane Bond story to a action paced espionage tale without any attempt to ease the transition. Am I supposed to view Colin and Georgie as well-meaning but bumbling patriots ala The Pink Panther or am I supposed to take them seriously? The story seems to ask me to do both.
A rather too-neat closure is just the final nail in the coffin as far as I'm concerned.
Colin and Georgie are a pretty likable couple, even if the things they do sometimes make me want to choke them both stupid. For one, I really get this impression that those two genuinely like each other and their chemistry is palpable. Even when they could do their worst and rip each other to shreds, they are restrained by their mutual fondness for each other, so they're okay. I can see them lasting a long time as a couple, and I wish them well. I just wish that they've met and loved under more coherent circumstances. Their love story will confuse their grandkids in retelling.
Chalk this one up as a story that tries to tackle too many things at once only to fall flat into the smelly kitchen sink. I'm still waiting for Elizabeth Boyle to come up with a book that lives up to the promise offered by her debut Brazen Angel (still her best so far).
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