by Sabrina Jeffries, historical (2012)
Pocket, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4516-4245-7
A Lady Never Surrenders is the last book in Sabrina Jeffries's The Hellions Of Halstead Hall series, and I don't recommend reading this one without having read the previous books first. This is because the author wraps up a murder mystery that spans the entire series in this one, and it refers to many past events and dwells on established relationships between the cast of characters here.
So, of all the Sharpe siblings, Celia is the only one left unmarried, and she has to, if her siblings are going to inherit anything from Hetty Plumtree, their grandmother who wields the Great Marry Or Else Will of Plot Device over the siblings' heads. In the previous book, things had been set in motion so that our Bow Street Runner, Jackson "Proper" Pinter, will look into the circumstances behind the deaths (murder?) of these siblings' parents twenty years ago.
In this story, Celia decides to enlist Jackson's aid to look into the backgrounds of her suitors as well. If she wants to marry, she may as well marry someone decent, no? Jackson is heads over heels in love with Celia, but because he is a nobody, he deems himself unworthy of her. And yet, that doesn't stop him from meddling and even sabotaging any developing relationship between her with those men. Throughout almost the entire story, he will tell himself repeatedly that she needs a moneyed and titled husband, and he's arrogant enough to assume that he knows her better than she knows herself. So when she does want to marry him, he decides that she's better off without him. His whining doesn't make much sense because the couple in the first book of this series are a titled gentleman and a nobody heroine. It's not like there is no precedence of this sort of marriage in the family. And his whining gets more aggravating when it soon becomes clear that he's not entirely without money or prospects. Not only that, he leads Celia on and then pushes her away in some irritating song and dance that is unfair to her. Jackson is such a dull and boring whiny crybaby.
Hetty, who is already an annoying plot device, turns into a crazy grandmother from the worst Bollywood movie ever as she deliberately drives a wedge between Celia and Jackson and acts like a stubborn and cruel cow in the process. Like Jackson, she strings Celia along, making Celia dance to her tune and then deliberately changing the rules to thwart Celia every time Celia threatens to go her own way. And similar to Jackson, Hetty seems to forget that she gave her blessings to previous titled-and-nobody alliances in her family. It seems like Ms Jeffries needs a Bollywood-style evil hag villain in this story, and Hetty will be it even if this means having her act out of character in this particular story.
And as for Celia. Okay, she's a typical heroine from this author, a heroine who is very emotional often to the point of being a twit, and someone who values the perception of propriety and good behavior to the point that she can spend hours splitting hairs over the tiniest matter. Just to illustrate, when she and Jackson begin working out their "partnership" to investigate her suitors, these two spend four - four! - pages arguing whether she should pay him for his services. Celia also shows little sense of self-preservation, and her favorite topic is about marrying for love or not at all. Oh, and she has self-esteem issues - she will never believe you if you compliment her even a little about her looks, and she also loves to blame herself for getting harassed by horny villains. She's such a tedious brown cow. Still, I do like how Celia refuses to cave in when Hetty tries to stop her from seeing Jackson, and I enjoy her dressing down of her nasty grandmother.
I'm sure you can tell by now that I am hardly entertained by the romance. As for the mystery, the resolution is bogged down by tortuous explanation after explanation by the author of the characters' actions, motives and what not. I can only wonder why Ms Jeffries couldn't have just stuck to a simpler kind of mystery.
Oh, and while I'm here, I have better warn you guys. I suspect some readers may have a fit when Jackson crashes into parties and starts scolding members of the Ton without suffering any repercussions. He is also allowed to participate in contests with other males of the Ton, where the prize is a kiss from Celia. Everyone here acts like it's normal for a Bow Street Runner to threaten titled gentlemen and wander freely in their ballrooms! Celia's actions can push the envelope when it comes to propriety, but she's only ruined when it's convenient, to give her and Jackson a push to marry. This is one of those stories where words like "propriety" are thrown about, but the hero and the heroine never face any real consequence for breaking the rules.
At any rate, A Lady Never Surrenders is a tepid and hollow by-the-numbers romance story with dire whiny characters of questionable intelligence. Read this if you want, but don't look at me if you fall asleep halfway through.
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