by Alissa Johnson, historical (2010)
Leisure, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-8439-6252-9
A self-made man, Mr Andrew Hunter has everything planned out beautifully for him and his future wife, Lady Katherine Cole. He will marry her, find pleasure in her company, and become the envy of other men because of her beauty. He will, on his part, indulge her to her heart's content. Knowing that she loves music, he will have all her favorite musical instruments installed in their house. They will live near her family and friends, whom he is quite fond of, and really, the two of them will be the perfect couple. The problem is, he hasn't informed Kate yet of their upcoming wedding.
Kate is a young lady who reads all those romantic stories of dangerous men and willowy damsels and as a result, she can't help wishing that someone will come sweep her off her feet just like those bad boys in her favorite books. Meanwhile, she composes music and tries in vain to sell them under her real name and gender. She could have pretended to be a man, but our heroine wants to find success while being true to herself, or something like that. She isn't certain about Hunter's attention, but Hunter however knows how to reel her in.
When he knows what kind of books she likes, he knows how to intrigue her. He will loom over her, pay her just enough attention to make her interested in him, play hard to get in just the right amount to keep her wondering about him, and finally, introduce her to the pleasures of the flesh by allowing her to believe that it's just some kind of adventure for her. I think Hunter has been learning all these tricks from Amanda Quick's historical romances, hmm. Meanwhile, there is a subplot about the possibility of smugglers attending a house party that also include the two of them and one of these suspects being a potential rival of Hunter for Kate's attention. Hunter, of course, is asked by his secret service boss to keep her safe - a good way for him to get even closer to her.
Yes, there is a spy subplot, which ties up with Hunter's past, his relationship with Kate, and the matchmaking plot of Kate's mother and Hunter's boss. If there is one obvious problem with Destined To Last, it's how there are way too many subplots in this story. The matchmaking plot serves as an underlying basis for all of Ms Johnson's books so far (the four books she has with Leisure are part of a series), but in this one that aspect serves only to clutter up an already busy story. The spy thing adds nothing to the story - it seems like Hunter is one here only because every hero in a romance set in England is one. Likewise, Kate is said to be "remarkably prone" to accidents, but it seems like the author remembers this aspect of the story only when she wants to come up with some contrived situation to make Kate vulnerable to Hunter's machination. All these things could have been removed from the story without affecting the story too much.
Strangely enough, for a story that has so many things going on, Destined To Last also suffers from pacing problems. This is a talk-heavy book (think of Julia Quinn's books if you want a basis for comparison), but unfortunately, it's perhaps too talk-heavy for the first half of the story. While Hunter's plan to reel Kate in by playing to all the cliché of a dark and dangerous person - without letting her know that he is a dark and dangerous person - provides some degree of amusement, Kate gets reeled in way too easily, and therefore, there isn't much fun in following that aspect of the story.
It is only in the second half of the story that things improve drastically. Just like how Hunter uses Bad Boy Seduction 101 to reel Kate in and therefore allows the author to playfully put her spin on overused tropes in the genre, the second half sees the author twisting and turning more overused tropes... only this time, her characters realize the folly of playing by the rules of those tropes. Kate, for example, pulls the Avon Romantic Boyfriend Test: rejecting Hunter's affections because he can't read her mind, doesn't behaving according to the fairy tale script she has written in her head, and doesn't tell her the L word. She will realize just how foolish she has been afterward. Hunter plays the hard-hearted hero who believes that love is just a silly fantasy and one could very well have a great marriage without bothering with love, only to realize that he is miserable by believing thus. These two characters both come to their collective epiphany to reunite and express their emotions to each other in a scene that has me feeling a little choked up inside.
Oh, one more thing: the fact that Andrew Hunter is a person who made his money from trade - he is considered by many members of the Ton to be unworthy of being in their company - never really becomes an issue when it comes to him marrying a blue-blooded woman. If you cannot overlook this sweeping of the difference in social status under the rug, you may have a hard time enjoying the story, so take note.
All things considered, Destined To Last isn't a bad book by any mean. Ms Johnson is in tune with her characters well and she doesn't shy away from admitting that her characters deserve a kick in the rear end now and then. Therefore, there is no silly shortcut to a happy ending or silly "my past is blue, so you will love me regardless of what I did to you" justification here. The main characters have to learn a few things from their mistakes or misguided beliefs before they can have their happy ending. The author also does humor well and she certainly isn't afraid of having fun with the overused conventions of the genre. It is only when it comes to uneven pacing and the kitchen sink feel of the plot that Destined To Last falters. Even so, it's a pretty entertaining read all the same.
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