by Sabrina Jeffries, historical (2014)
Pocket, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4516-9348-5
While When The Rogue Returns is not exactly a big misunderstanding tale, it operates on the premise of the two main characters having wrong assumptions of one another and taking some time to get over these, er, differences between them. I personally think that this is one of the toughest types of stories an author can tackle, as there is a big possibility that the characters come off as idiots than sympathetic victims of circumstance. The good news here is that the characters don't seem too dumb for words. The bad news is, they aren't very much of anything else.
Well, once upon a time, Isabella and Victor Cale were such a sickeningly sweet pair of husband and wife. She seemed so fragile, he was so take-charge and manly... ugh, I was actually glad when Isa's more ruthless brother-in-law and her sister cheerfully messed up Isa's plan to save Victor from her criminally inclined family's plot and had that man tossed into prison - tortured - while letting Isa believe that Victor was happy to grab his share of the spoils and flee without a backward look at her. She's an untrustworthy ho in his eyes, and he is a horrid lying blackguard in her eyes.
Of course they meet again when a plot throws them together. He's now a manly man who does part time secret agent/private investigator thing to demonstrate his manliness, and she has thought she'd escaped her family and is now trying to go legit. He is called in to check out an unwanted prospective fiancée of some lady's son, and that fiancée turns out to be... yes, Isa.
This story isn't anything different from the author's usual repertoire. Isa is supposedly once a mousy lady who became more independent and tough after her perceived abandonment by Victor, but she is basically another rehash of the author's usual judgmental and snobbish heroine who is nowhere as intelligent as she thinks she is. Victor is another surly fellow whose heart is stone after he's been hurt, although he has a better excuse to be this way compared to some of the other similar heroes from this author in the past. Even their relationship seem very similar to relationships of similarly written heroes and heroines in the past.
Still, things won't be so flat if the plot worked. The thing is, these characters are so busy being That Guy and That Girl that they seem oddly unaffected by the events that befall them. What I mean is that, these characters don't seem to show character growth at all. They still don't know much of one another by the time they get back together again, because there aren't enough moments here for the characters to connect without being distracted by the external conflict. When they do connect, they are busy arguing or talking themselves into figuring out the unnecessarily convoluted plot. Therefore, the entire premise seems like a mere contrivance to get the story in motion.
When The Rogue Returns needs the characters to show more emotional growth or passion or... I don't know, something to tell me that the main characters have become wiser and tougher, so their second time around would be stronger and worth the effort. Instead, the author seems to be going through the motions - downplaying the dramatic conflict considerably, making it hard for me to take the story seriously.
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