by Karen Hawkins, historical (2006)
Avon, $6.99, ISBN 0-06-058414-9
Her Officer And Gentleman is related closely to Karen Hawkins' previous book Her Master And Commander. While this book can stand alone, the plot in this book is a spillover and a continuation of sorts from the previous book. This book is not just better off read if you have read the previous book, this book's early few chapters serve as a spoilers of sorts for the previous book.
Her Officer And Gentleman is Christian Llevanth's story. I've covered the background of him and his twin brother Tristan as well as the premise of this story in the review of the previous book so feel free to check out that review if you want to know more about these matters. In this book, Christian is also Gentleman James, a highwayman who steals the precious stones and jewelry from noblemen while stealing the, er, hearts of their women in the process. Tristan was a pirate and Christian is a highwayman. All we need now is a long-lost third brother who is a secret agent for the Crown. Anytime, Christian now wants to take revenge on the man that framed his mother for treason and clear her name in the process. Having inherited the title of Viscount Westerville, he is now free to gain entry into the Ton and begin his mission. However, he also at the same time has to be respectable and all in order for him and his brother to get their hands on their late father's money (if I say anything more about this, I'd be spoiling the previous book).
He may have his cake and eat it too when it turns out that the granddaughter of the man who is his prime suspect makes her debut in Society just as he makes his. Lady Elizabeth is twenty-five but his grandfather is determined that his dearest granddaughter experience Society at least once so here she is, even if she doesn't want to marry and instead wants to be on the shelf so that she can be free to see the world and other things that romance heroines always claim they want to do, kinda like a beauty pageant always saying in Miss Universe that she wants to be a doctor to cure cancer and discover world peace... until she wins the title, that is. Where it's then bye-bye cancer, hello movie career, or in the context of romance novels, hello orgasms, bye-bye dreams. Back to Christian and Elizabeth, he ends up getting the two of them compromised and subsequently about to be married, but the two of them are determined to solve the mystery (he to clear his mother's name, she to clear her grandfather's name) so love really shouldn't be allowed to complicate things between them. Right?
Ms Hawkins doesn't allow this story to become a Big Secret thingie: Elizabeth guesses quickly that Christian is up to something even as she is attracted to him while Christian eventually comes clean with Elizabeth instead of stringing her along with lies. Readers not fond of stories where the hero lies to the heroine throughout the whole thing can therefore breathe easy when reading this book. Our main characters work together despite having different opinions about the guilty party when it comes to the mystery, which is nice, but unfortunately, the resolution of this mystery is very predictable in the sense that pretty much every other suspense subplot in this kind of historical romances have the same kind of villain with the same motivation behind the crime.
The characters on their own right are fine. Christian isn't a very original or unique hero but his falling for Elizabeth is very charming, especially when he falls for her with a single-minded intensity that goes along very well with his bravado and confidence. He harbors no malice towards Elizabeth despite what her grandfather may have done to his mother and he even accepts Elizabeth's virtues easily. Perhaps too easily, I suppose, but then again Her Officer And Gentleman isn't an angst-ridden story with internal dramas all about trust issues. Elizabeth is a decent heroine too. She has some stereotypical aspects of a historical romance heroine, such as a tendency to be cheap and fast where the hero is concerned (I believe the euphemism is "wanting an adventure" or "wanting to experiment") and a somewhat overly visceral reaction when it comes to the subplot. Nonetheless for the most part she has a clear head on her shoulders and she doesn't let the hero or her grandfather run roughshod all over her. She can put her foot down when the men are behaving most unreasonably and I like that.
Therefore, I'm quite dismayed when the main characters, who are really fine characters in their own right, have not much chemistry together. The events along their path to happily-ever-after have been overused many times in many other wallpaper Georgian or Regency or Victorian historical romances and the characters react just as predictably to these events. In other words, their relationship bores me silly. The mystery and its denouement as well as resolution are equally predictable.
At the end of the day, the strengths of Her Officer And Gentleman are mostly in its main characters who, while as predictable as sunrise at times, are nonetheless very likable types that never behave in exceedingly stupid or irritating ways. The story these characters are mired in is very pedestrian and formulaic. I suspect therefore that the reader's enjoyment of this book will depend mostly on his or her threshold for the same old, more old stuff in romance novels. This is not a bad book at all, in fact, it makes a pleasant source for entertainment on a lazy afternoon, but at the same time, it's not going to stick to my mind for long once I close this book.
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