by Sabrina Jeffries, historical (2011)
Pocket, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4516-4240-7
To Wed A Wild Lord is the fourth book in Sabrina Jeffries's The Hellions Of Halstead Hall, and I'm not even going to touch on the tortuous back story involved dead parents, children with abandonment issues, and one of the most harebrained matchmaking schemes to ever grace a romance series. Let's just say that our hero Gabriel Sharpe has issues stemming from the apparent murder-suicide of his parents (it seemed like his mother killed her unfaithful husband and then offed herself subsequently). He and his siblings all have various issues that will, naturally, be put to peace when they fall in love. Complicating matters is an aunt who forces them to marry or be collectively cut off from her will. Of course, these siblings are all marrying for the other siblings' sake, each convinced that they will never marry for all kinds of familiar reasons.
In this story, Gabe decides to woo and marry Virginia Waverly. It's a good plan. Her brother died while racing Gabe on a particularly dangerous route, and she blames him for her death ever since. No, there is no reason why she shouldn't be jumping at joy at the idea of him marrying her so that he can get his inheritance! Virginia displays an intellect that rivals Gabe's. Her sole purpose in life, not that her brother is rotting away in the ground, is to devote her life caring for her grandfather until he dies. You can't accuse her of having no ambition in life, though. Virginia knows that marriage is the worst fate ever for a woman so she's going to be governess or a lady's companion after that old man joins her brother in becoming worm food. And what better way to ensure that her reputation is so blackened that nobody will even hire her in the future by challenging Gabe to a race of her own at every turn? By beating him - and, naturally, she knows that she will beat him because she and her girlfriend trotted their horses once upon a time on some lane - she will finally humiliate him and avenge her dead brother!
I think it goes without saying that the first 150 or so pages of this book will either amuse the reader or drive her up the wall. I mean, just look at the synopsis! It is as if the author had gotten completely plastered before randomly pulling out clichés from a bag to paste onto the pages of a book. Early in the story, both characters go beyond the call of duty to become unlikable types of tired old clichés.
Gabe is a familiar emo dude pretending to be a rake. He even has a nickname - the Angel of Death. The rationale behind the nickname is that Gabe defies death despite doing all kinds of drunken reckless things. Shouldn't the Angel of Death be given to someone who brings death or someone who is constantly surrounded by death - Lord Vere from Loretta Chase's The Last Hellion, for example? But I guess "Reckless Emo Fool" doesn't have that nice ring to it. And then there is Virginia. Oh god, it is as if she was created solely to drive me out of my mind. She displays the intelligence of a crushed gnat, and she is very shrill too when it comes to demonstrating her state of utter brainlessness. Additionally, she is a judgmental hypocrite who has no problems enjoying the hero's amorous attention even as she castigates him for it. It is later revealed that she doesn't know the full details behind her brother's death, so let's raise a glass to stupidly reckless heroines out there before we take up our guns and hunt those wretched imbeciles down.
But here's the thing: sometime later in the story, the heroine undergoes a personality change. Normally, this is not a good thing, but in this case, Virginia morphs from a shrewish stupid hag into a psychologist-in-training determined to offer succor to our wounded hero with her PhD'ed hoochie. I'd take a horny Barbara d'Angelis to a shrieking dingbat anytime. Here, the story takes a more familiar turn - like many of this author's efforts, the story becomes another tale of a woman doing her best to get to the hero that she understands his inner demons and she's willing to help him heal, if he'd let her. While there are moments when this part of the story feels too much like a psychologist's session, there are some scenes that work at tugging my heart. Also, I like that the heroine is determined to get to the hero and make their relationship work instead of running away like most heroines tend to do. Gabe also becomes a far more well-rounded character as the story progresses. The romance has a pretty decent emotional core underneath all the psychology masterclasses.
Ultimately, this is a very uneven story with a really flawed premise. Sabrina Jeffries seems to be suffering from the same condition that plagues Jayne Ann Krentz and Nora Roberts: that the author has written many books and there is a noticeable pattern, or formula, to her story lines and characters. This book has its charms, but there is much about it that doesn't work, and when it does work, it doesn't measure up to the author's past efforts that contain similar plot elements and characters.
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