by Kasey Michaels, historical (2014)
HQN, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-373-77860-7
What A Hero Dares is the conclusion of the author's series about the Redgrave siblings. Like the previous books that come before it, this one does not stand alone well, and this book, especially, does not stand alone at all. You really should read the previous books before starting this one, as various secondary characters and plot threads from previous books all come to a head here. The author drops plenty of exposition to help new readers catch up, but I feel that even all that exposition doesn't cover the full extent of the events in the previous books.
In many ways, this book's problem stems from the fact that it is the conclusion of a series, but it features a hero and a heroine who are both newcomers to the scene. Much of the action is seeded by secondary characters, so the poor darlings end up like dazed newcomers who have no clue what they are doing.
Our hero, Maximillien Redgrave, is built up as the most dashing hero to die for - a calculated move to get me to read all the way to the end of the series, if we want to be cynical - and so, he's here in the last book to impress me. Also in the scene is his ex-girlfriend Zoe Charbonneau. Both are secret agents. Once upon a time, they had a thing, until the villain pulled a plot on them and he left, thinking of her as a traitor, and she spent time in prison thinking that he had abandoned her.
Zoe has an excuse - she was in prison - but poor Max has no such excuse so he comes off as horribly clueless for a supposedly amazing agent. Anton, whom Max knows is a double agent, conveniently showed up when Zoe was MIA, with a letter written by Zoe telling him that she was a traitor so bye, bye, see ya... not. Max buys this wholesale until the present day, without even wondering that perhaps a fellow secret agent might not blab about being a double agent so freely. He doesn't even wonder why the same fellow that carried the letter to him would stick around with him until that fellow tries to conk him in the head on Max's journey back to his country home. Ladies and gentlemen, this guy is supposed to be smart.
Naturally, Zoe was set up by Anton, and she is now trailing after that guy all the way to England. She happens to be nearby when the guy tries to conk Max in the head, and this leads to a reunion and the two of them working with the rest of the Redgrave clan to bring the whole plot to a close.
Unfortunately, the author doesn't give Max and Zoe much to do here, much less give them a chance to shine. Zoe is basically here as a placeholder for Max to explain all the events up to this book to her, and the reader. A heroine that resembles a nodding bobblehead most of the time doesn't rank high on the memorability meter. I'm also surprised that the author doesn't give Max more of an active role here. He's basically just carrying out instructions from his grandmother. Again, not exactly hitting a high on the memorability meter.
Another frustration I have with this story is how much it feels like a story that is written just to wrap things up. Instead of letting the characters behave organically, the author turns the grandmother into a ludicrously omnipotent mastermind who has all four paws in everything, even in the Intelligence department. Now, I know in the past that Trixie isn't above using her sex appeal to strengthen some degree of power and control over some prominent members of the Parliament, but having her now becoming the secret ruler of the universe has me scratching my head. The main villain is also built to be just as omnipotent - her minions are everywhere - but, unlike Trixie, this one gets a boot in the rear end without much of a grand fight.
What I'm trying to say here is that the author gets lazy with the plotting - she uses some secondary characters as convenient plot devices, with these secondary characters knowing everything and being able to control every situation, and yet, even as she sets up the bad guy to be this unrealistically cunning villain, she doesn't make much of an effort to create a dramatic showdown worthy of the build-up in the last few books. This one is much shorter than the previous books, which only adds to the impression I have of this book as one which was done solely to get it done, if you know what I mean.
It's a shame, really. The whole series up to this point has been an interesting one, but What A Hero Dares reduces the intriguing Trixie into a cartoon all-knowing queen of everything and everybody while never letting the hero or the heroine become anything more than Trixie's puppets. As a series finale go, this one ranks up there as one of the most disappointing ones I've come across.
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