by Julie Anne Long, historical (2009)
Avon, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-06-134161-8
Since The Surrender has more mystery than romance, so you should adjust your expectations accordingly when you read this one. For me, the mystery isn't the problem, it's the fact that the author herself brings up morality, and it's a kind of morality that has me scratching my head.
Over the course of the author's last few books that I failed to enjoy as much as I enjoyed her early books, I got an uneasy feeling that is confirmed after I have finished this book. The author seems to have a different set of morality that she judges her male and female characters by. Males often getting away with everything from hypocrisy to asshole behavior to even criminal tendencies while females are often forced to change their personality entirely to become a better person when their sins are often arrogance and - horror - thinking that they are too good for the hero. And nowhere is this treatment more apparent than in this book.
Captain Chase Eversea, our hero, is approached by our heroine Rosalind March who needs his help. Her sister Lucy is missing. She swears that she had visited Lucy in Newgate Prison a while back, but now Lucy seems to have vanished off the face of the earth and no one would even admit that Lucy, arrested for stealing a bracelet from a store, was even in Newgate in the first place. At first Chase dismisses her because she has the nerve to become the woman he was infatuated with when she was married and he was stationed to work under her husband during the war. After all, when a woman bruises a man's ego, clearly he can't trust a word she says anymore. But eventually he realizes that Rosalind is telling the truth and deigns to stop acting like a ridiculous emo to help her.
Ms Long's writing is as usual exquisite when she deigns to write about the romance, but for a long time, this is more of a mystery romp. The mystery is interesting, but wow, the resolution blows huge monkey chunks. But let's talk about that a while later, when I have to resort to spoilers all over the place.
Let's talk about the main characters. Rosalind is a cheerless heroine, but given her circumstances, I don't expect her to break into song and dance. But it is truly bizarre how Chase acts in the first quarter of the story that he is in a worse place than Rosalind... and all because she was married when he was randy for her and as a result, he lost in life's game of Happy Family. It's not as if she had betrayed him personally or had stomped on his heart, broken it to pieces, and urinated all over the pieces while telling everyone that he had a small penis, so Chase's whole "Oh! Emo! My heart! My heart!" nonsense is overblown and ridiculous. He's a grown man, so he may as well act like one, no? Back to Rosalind, her personality completely disappears after she has consummated the deed with Captain O Emo, My Emo here, and she turns into a cardboard prop who is placed on this world to validate Chase's choices and decisions in life.
Back to the mystery. Firstly, let me say that I find it odd how Rosalind, a widow of a beloved soldier and a woman well-respected by her husband's men, seems to have no friends at all - she has to resort to asking Chase for help because she apparently exists in a vacuum in this story with only Lucy as her family member. Still, this is not as problematic as the author happily bringing up morality in the last few pages of this story and therefore introduces plenty of moral dissonance. [spoiler starts] Ms Long has Rosalind telling the member that while Rosalind and Chase betraying her husband is wrong, her husband forgave the two of them while holding the snitch - the villain - who told him of the betrayal responsible, because apparently the husband knew that the villain snitched for "bad" reasons. How generous that the husband let these two off the hook - maybe it's because they were betraying him for the "right" reasons.
Even more bizarre, the villain is let completely off the hook - he is ordered by our hero to deport himself to Botany Bay, but his crimes will never be exposed and he is still free despite forcing women imprisoned in Newgate to become prostitutes. Given the number of hapless women available in Botany Bay, I suspect that this villain will have a most easy time setting up another brothel there, I tell you. What a punishment! I get this impression that the reasoning behind all this is that these women would be hanged or worse because English laws are unjust, so it's... better, for the want of a better word, that these women spread their legs to earn their freedom instead. Rosalind actually applauds the hero for letting the villain and the clients of the brothel walk away, saying on page 354, "What is right? What is wrong? You made a few people immeasurably happy. You righted a few wrongs. You can only follow your instincts when the rules fail, and I would trust the people I love to your instincts any day, Chase." [spoiler ends]
Compare this to how spoiled and proud heroines in past books had to be brought down in humbling circumstances or even hammered by the author until they ended up a completely different person by the last page while heroes could sleep with every other woman in the story, act like hypocrites, and treat the heroines badly without anyone calling them on it in the way those poor heroines were called on. [spoiler starts] Heck, Chase here is cozy with the villain and he doesn't even get serious pangs of conscience when he realizes how he had been hanging out and initially trusting a villain more than a woman whose sin in the past was bruising his ego and not being available to be his wife. And then the things I put behind the previous spoiler tag... [spoiler ends] I can only shake my head and wonder what is happening here. If this keeps up, I suspect that I would have to give up on reading books by this author or my head will eventually explode from all this contradictory rules and principles of morality that her characters conform to. If only the author hadn't even brought up the issue of morality, I'd have given this book more leeway. Sigh.
Still, on the bright side, that kid Liam is cute. Too bad he'll be taken in by these creepy people and eventually grow up to become another hypocrite.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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