by Pam Rosenthal, historical (2008)
Signet, $14.00, ISBN 978-0-451-22230-5
The Edge Of Impropriety is certainly an interesting romance. We have main characters who act like adults and various intriguing secondary characters, all of them definitely not your everyday Regency romance stereotypes. Unfortunately, these secondary characters end up being much more interesting than the main characters.
The plot is actually more like a soap opera than a love story, as it is hard to separate the hero and the heroine from the lives of the various secondary characters that they interact with. We have Jasper James Hedges, a scholar whose interests lie in geology and history. He is the guardian of his nephew Anthony (actually his son, the result of an affair between a then wildly infatuated Jasper and his brother's wife) and his niece Sydney. While Jasper gets along well with Sydney, he has problems connecting with Anthony.
Anthony is a young man now making the rounds around London town, and he is obviously the inspiration for popular author Marina Wyatt's latest bestselling novel. Not that the Countess of Gorham wants this fact to be kept a secret. She and her publisher play the publicity machinery similar to the way Jackie Collins and her publisher do things: Marina's readers know that the characters in her books tend to be based on some real life folks, and part of the pleasure comes from speculating on who these folks may be. When her publisher plans to get Jasper on board to put out a book on historical sculptures and stuff, Marina has Anthony issuing an invitation to Jasper and Sydney to visit London and mingle with them for that particular Season. Before the Season ends, Marina and Jasper will be in love.
Of course, we need some conflicts to keep things interesting. Therefore - steel yourself now, people - Jasper has a feud with a member of the Ton over the differences in their opinions, Anthony needs a wealthy wife, the governess is infatuated with both the Hedge men (not at the same time, fortunately, and she wisely ends up choosing the available one), Sydney wants to be an author, and oh yes, Marina is being blackmailed.
Marina's problem may be the most pressing of all, as she was from the wrong side of the tracks and was fortunate in the sense that the wealthy Earl of Gorham, whom she was sold off to as his mistress, became fond enough of her to marry her eventually. She definitely does not want the sordid details of her past to be exposed, not when she is currently enjoying a most comfortable position in the social hierarchy of the Ton. But her problem never comes off as a particularly distressing one in this story. It's just one of the many fillers to keep the story going.
Marina is not your typical heroine in that while she does have some predictable "Ooh, I had a sex life but it's not that pleasant or nice so don't stone me, readers!" aspects of her personality, she remains true to her character as this experienced and pragmatic woman whose life experiences made her a strong-willed if cynical person. Jasper is also an unusual hero in that, like Marina, he exhibits strengths and flaws that make him come off as quaintly human. His awkward relationship with Anthony is realistically depicted. Jasper and Marina have a pleasantly agreeable relationship that sees them behaving like mature and sensible people who like each other. The problem here is that there really isn't anything interesting in their relationship once they embark on an affair early in the story. On one hand, it makes sense that their relationship is free of troubles. There isn't anything to stop these two from having an affair and there is a danger that any conflict being introduced to keep them apart will come off as very contrived. Yet, at the same time this means that Marina and Jasper's storyline may as well be concluded by that point.
Ms Rosenthal seems to be aware of this as she begins to ramp up the soap opera of the various secondary characters in this story to keep things going. In this case, I don't mind the soap opera as I find characters like Anthony and even the villain interesting enough to want to know more about them. The problem is, this makes Marina and Jasper rather boring when I compare them to these characters. I have to tell you, I am actually more affected by Jasper realizing that the villain is actually a sad and lonely (if vile) man than I am when Jasper and Marina decide to get married. I can be quite perverse in that I actually feel sorry for the villain. The last few chapters are very romantic and nicely written indeed, though, reminding me why I initially found Marina and Jasper interesting. In a way, this story ends on a most appropriate high note.
It's unfortunate, therefore, that The Edge Of Impropriety has a heavily padded feel to it, what with the most interesting parts of the story found either in the first few or the last few chapters. If the author has maintained the momentum throughout the entire story, this one would have been a clear winner. As it is, The Edge Of Impropriety is a pretty entertaining and very interesting story that takes me down a path rarely taken by other authors. Therefore, I'm pleased to have read this book even if I'm disappointed that it doesn't resonate with me more.
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