by Loretta Chase, historical (2006, 1992 reissue)
Berkley, $7.99, ISBN 0-425-20950-4
When a traditional Regency author jumps onto the mainstream historical bandwagon, she can do two things. One, she can embrace the fact that sex sells and write under the pen name of, say, Stephanie Laurens. Or she can wince at the thought of describing every vein on a throbbing phallus in graphic detail and instead does what she usually do best, only this time pad the story with plenty of adventures, mostly to exotic lands, and more adventures. Loretta Chase's first mainstream historical romance The Lion's Daughter is comical in how faithfully it conforms to the stereotypical notions about a traditional Regency author's first foray into the Land Of Stories Involving Moist Wet Intimacies. Later, Ms Chase will embrace the wetness and the moistness, in several stages. One, she'll turn all moody and broody about Bad People Having Sex in her next book, Captives Of The Night. Then she'll decide, what the heck, Sex Is Fun, in her subsequent book and the world rejoice.
Until then, it's The Lion's Daughter one has to be content with.
The story is simple. Our heroine Esme Brentmoor is dressed up so that she can pretend to be a boy as she runs around trying to kill the scumbags that caused the death of her father. Our hero Varian St George is a gambler who has decided to use his past as an excuse to be a Bad Bad Rake after he's gambled away the family fortune. Their paths cross again and again in an impressive trek from London, England all the way to Albania as Varian and Esme try to perform the familiar dance of she trying to run away from him and carry out all kinds of plans of vengeance while he tries to stop her, and of course, that's just a prelude to the I'm Not Worthy blues that both will perform as a much-demanded encore in this story. Esme is those heroines that can fool the hero in the guise of a boy so that Varian finds himself enchanted with this "strange" lady while he is trying to protect some boy he has grown fond of (not in a Michael Jackson way, of course), and Varian, while a pretty genuine bad boy, doesn't really develop much as a character.
Part of my problem here is that there are so many external conflicts and subplots that there is hardly any development in the relationship between the two characters. When they are not getting entangled in subplots, they are arguing and fighting. Esme and Varian seem to have too much of a juvenile "Love! Hate!" affair going on for me. I wish their relationship has been developed better at the expense of one or two external conflicts padding this story. There are also too many times when these characters don't talk. They are either physically and mentally worlds apart from each other. All I get instead are tedious psychobabbles passed off as interior monologues, mostly of the garden "He's too good for me!" and "I'm too bad for her!" variety.
It doesn't help that Esme is clearly incapable of doing whatever she wants to do, so all her blusters about being an independent and capable woman make me roll up my eyes. Esme tries too hard to be a martyr in her own melodrama.
At the end of the day, I suspect that fans of Ms Chase's more well-known books - the ones that come after Lord Of Scoundrels, that is - may not find much to enjoy in The Lion's Daughter. It's too much of a humorless travelogue featuring two dour characters bent on being the biggest martyr in the land. There are too many conflicts and too little character interaction that will develop the romance in this story. In short, the Loretta Chase that wrote this book is a very different author that wrote The Lord Of Scoundrels and so forth in terms of style and technique. If you want to get this book to complete your collection, by all means do just that, but if you expect another Lord Of Scoundrels, I think you're in for a surprise. Take that $7.99 and go have a nice meal instead.
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