by Jacquie D'Alessandro, historical (2005)
Avon, $6.99, ISBN 0-06-077938-1
Late in Jacquie D'Alessandro's Not Quite A Gentleman, the romance between the hero and the heroine develops into a very satisfying one to read. However, pretty much everything else about this book is a flimsily constructed story. I suspect the reader's reaction to this book depends on how forgiving she is when it comes to plots aren't the most logical because one thing Ms D'Alessandro does very well here is to make me laugh and give me a satisfying romance.
Lady Victoria Wexhall is a pretty familiar heroine. She is beautiful and men apparently adore her but she gives them no heed because she doesn't feel that special something with them. Naturally, she believes that something is love and not something of a more hormonal bent. She also has a thorn in her side: three years ago, Victoria who was then twenty felt that something with Dr Nathan Oliver, the youngest son of the Earl of Alwyck. However, he left for the countryside after kissing her and Victoria is not pleased that she not only can't get that kiss out of her mind, he doesn't call or write so she can't give him a piece of her mind.
That was three years ago. Today, she is wondering which titled geezer she will consent to marry when her father packs her off to the Alwyck estate in Cornwall for reasons she can't understand. However, she realizes that she may finally get a chance to inflict some payback on Nathan who at that moment is Cornwall's answer to James Herriot. She will make him fall for her and then she'll do what he did to her - walk away and leave him to stew. That will show him! However, she soon discovers that there is a more sinister reason behind her trip to Cornwall: her father is the superspy boss of England, Nathan is a disgraced forced-to-retired spy on a last hurrah of sorts to clear his name, and Victoria has unknowingly carried a coded missive from her father for Nathan in her bags. Victoria has a loftier goal now: she wants to be Nancy Drew to Nathan's Hardy Boy as they look for a missing cache of jewels.
Now, Victoria is a rather spoiled and immature heroine who will no doubt push the buttons of readers who prefer their heroines to be selfless martyrs with eyes always cast down as they defer to the male authority figures around them. But you know me, I adore Victoria who has a jolly sense of humor and a most admirable manner of getting the men around her to do things her way. Victoria isn't a stupid heroine. Immature, yes, but stupid? Hardly. Meanwhile, Nathan is a nice guy with just a little sprinkling of angst to play off Victoria's personality. A very cute aspect of Nathan's personality is his channeling of James Herriot as he keeps a menagerie of animals which he accepts as payments for his medical treatments from the simple folks in the area. Ms D'Alessandro makes the animals adorable enough without crossing over to being too sappy or sentimental.
The plot on the other hand is a mess. Why would Victoria's father, who knows that her daughter may be in danger, pack her off without telling her the danger she's in while secretly putting a coded message in her bags, knowing fully well that his enemies could strike at her to get their hands on it? Also, Victoria and Nathan approach the case so leisurely that I sometimes wonder whether these people are just pretending to be spies in some kind of play. The flimsy spy and missing jewel subplot is just an excuse to set up the story and Ms D'Alessandro doesn't seem to care if a few major aspects of this subplot don't make much sense. There are also instances when information is unnecessarily kept from Victoria so that she will remain in the dark a little longer and stumble here and there as a result. However, there are many other things that Ms D'Alessandro gets right - very, very right. Therefore, often the characters are a perplexing dichotomy of stupid/sensible Jekyll-and-Hyde types.
For example, Victoria gets angry when she realizes how her father deliberately sent her off into potential danger without telling her about what she's getting into. She is angry that he clearly doesn't think that she's smart enough to grasp the situation he's pushing her into. That's a most refreshingly sane way of looking at things if you ask me. Then Victoria goes crazy in the next few paragraphs when she starts moaning to Nathan about how her father never told her that he's a spy boss so oh no, he lied to her and the end of the world is coming, boo-hoo-hoo. Give me a break. He's a spy, not the Prince of Wales, so of course he has to keep his job a secret.
Nathan is prone to throwing pity parties for himself. While Victoria is obviously self-absorbed at the start of the story, I'd say that Nathan has a strong case of being as self-absorbed as Victoria, only his one-man melodrama is considered more accepted than Victoria's by many readers because he has a penis. But Ms D'Alessandro doesn't give him the opportunity to indulge himself as Nathan is eventually put on the hot grill, so to speak, when he has to listen to the other side of the story from the perspectives of his father and his siblings. He realizes that while he feels wronged by their lack of faith in him, he didn't behave much better by making a dramatic exit and refusing to listen to, much less reconcile with his father. In short, Nathan learns that it's not always about him when it comes to life.
Another good thing about this story is how Victoria and Nathan have to confront all the pertinent issues in their relationship such as trust and respect before they reach their happily-ever-after. Therefore, while these two characters have a pretty good banter system going and they can be very adorable even when they are hissing at each other like children, the lighter romantic comedy moments in this story are balanced very nicely with just enough heavier and quieter scenes where those two address what needs to be addressed between them. I can't say that these two characters are clearly wiser people at the end of the story, but I can believe that they will be more than fine in the years ahead.
Therefore, Not Quite A Gentleman has two things going for it. It has a very enjoyable romance at the heart of the story but it also has a very flimsy premise and sometimes the characters behave rather stupidly in order for the author to further the plot. So what will it be for you? Can you overlook the glaring problems in the premise and storyline development and concentrate on the much better romantic aspects of the story? You may want to think about that when you pick up this book. Me, I'm somewhat conflicted about this book because I like the romance but I also wish that Ms D'Alessandro has given her characters a stronger storyline. Ultimately my feelings tip towards liking this book, but just enough for me to give it a very cautious recommendation.
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