by Carolyn Jewel, historical (2004)
Leisure, $5.99, ISBN 0-8439-5309-8
The Spare refers to several different people and situations in this book. The hero Captain Sebastian Alexander is a spare, although he becomes the Earl of Tiern-Cope after his brother Andrew was murdered along with Andrew's wife. Olivia Willow is the witness to the double-murder, but due to trauma, perhaps, she has no memory of that day that revolved around the murder. She is a spare, in the sense that she is invited to the social function at Pennhyll Castle as an unintrusive companion to Diana, the sister of Sebastian's friend James, just to make up the quota for female guests.
Sebastian fully intends to marry Diana (and her large dowry) as he feels that it is his responsibility to his title to marry well. He wants to get close to Olivia only to get her to remember what she saw of the murder. But complicating matters are his attraction to Olivia as well as his friend James' intention to woo and seduce Olivia into being his mistress. As the story unravels, skeletons in the closet and legends of ghostly Earls emerge, to the point that the eerie corridors and stairways and other nooks and crannies of Pennhyll Castle aren't the only maze-like elements in this story.
In a way, I miss the raw emotions displayed in the author's previous book, Lord Ruin. The Spare is better written and more tightly plotted, so technically, this book is much superior compared to Lord Ruin. But the intensity of the main characters' romantic (and not so romantic) emotions in Lord Ruin is missing in The Spare.
But that's not to say that I don't enjoy The Spare. I do, if only because it is a fascinating story that is very coherent despite having so many elements in the plot that could derail it. The pace of the book is far from action-packed but I never really notice the slow pace as I am caught up in the twists and turns of the story. The story is dominated by Sebastian's point-of-view, which makes sense as Olivia is one of the many pieces of the jigsaw puzzle he has to put together. Unfortunately, this means that Olivia remains a vague character compared to Sebastian and her behavior starts to grate once she is married to Sebastian. In contrast, Sebastian is a well-written character whose evolution of his feelings for Olivia is enjoyable to read.
My enjoyment of this book though is ruined considerably by the author turning a shocking twist in the story into a mere red herring. The identity of the villain is predictable. I am really hoping that Ms Jewel won't make that person the villain when this person is introduced, because this villain is too obvious. Imagine my keen disappointment when the author decides to make this person just that kind of stereotype at the end. The payoff of the mystery of Pennhyll Castle is poor compared to the effort the reader placed into following what until then is a different and exciting type of Regency historical romance.
I am impressed however with how Ms Jewel manage to create two-dimensional fascinating characters (the hero, at least) and tell a story that is intricate yet coherent and compelling and I will be hoping that she will put out a few more books at least. The Spare isn't a keeper for me but it's nonetheless a different and entertaining change from the more conventional Regency historical romances out there.
Strictly speaking as a reader who doesn't want Ms Jewel to be the latest in the long line of "Authors I Like That Are Now Currently Not Getting Published", I do wonder though whether it is wise that Ms Jewel keeps changing her style and tone. I appreciate that she does this, but I doubt that romance readers in general would, as evidenced by the hard lesson Connie Brockway learned when she tried her hands at alternating darker with lighter romances to the combined delight of me and maybe ten other readers out there. Alas, she in the process also succeeds in alienating everybody else who demands predictability and comfort-read escapism and who instead snaps up everything Stephanie Laurens puts out with clockwork-like regularity.
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