by Deborah Simmons, historical (2000)
Harlequin Historical, $4.99, ISBN 0-373-29133-7
Early into my reading of Deborah Simmons' latest instalment of the de Burgh saga (none of the earlier books I have read by the way), I realize there is something about the cover that feels wrong. I keep turning back to it, and the sight of this rather geeky if clean-cut GQ-guy-does-medieval dude on a horse seems okay. But something is not right.
Anyway, I'm ahead of myself. This story has Stephen de Burgh AKA the Useless, Drunkard, Womanizing Sod made by his father to escort medieval psychic lady Brighid l'Estrange to her property in Wales. Stephen, angry at his father for forcing him to get his lazy bum off the chair to actually move, decides to make it hard on Brighid as payback. Especially since she's ugly and cold, he will have fun at payback time. Heh heh heh. So he takes his time and makes her look like a fool when he refuses to obey her orders or anything.
Here we have a classic antagonist tale, and I expect with relish a great deal of growing-up and confusion (the "ohmigod, she/he is not as bad I thought, I actually like her/him!" sort of thing).
But unfortunately, the author plunges the second half of the story into a lot of actions and not enough quiet moments to allow these two characters to grow up. The second half is an exercise in plot deja vu, which won't be too bad if there is enough character growth and interaction to balance the familiar feeling, but there isn't enough of character development.
Brighid does something stupid to catalyze the start of the action-packed second half, but I am sympathetic: the way Stephen behaves, I doubt any woman wouldn't finally reach the end of her straws and do the same. He mocks her when he thinks she is ugly, when he realizes that she is pretty, he mocks her and paws her at every opportunity, all the time making it clear that he will never respect her in the morning. I don't think I won't run away into the dark woods myself if I spend any second longer in this drunken oaf's company. It's either that or a very unladylike action of masculinity mutilation with a blunt dagger.
What this book needs is a slow but well-done growing up on both characters' part. Stephen to grow up and realize that there is a world out there beyond acting like a spoiled brat and getting away with it thanks to his family name. Brighid needs to grow up too and stop acting pouty and expecting the world to turn her way. But MLdB chooses to justify these childish behaviors instead of taking time to make these two think, take stock, and change.
Such as when Brighid realizes that, so what is Stephen is drunk and tomcats around? He saves her - he's a hero! Big deal, I say. Saving heroines in distress is a prerequisite, I say. What about the minute details? Respect, friendship, trust, honesty, and warmth? Even close to the ending, Stephen is still walking all over Brighid, refusing to listen or even consider her wishes unless they are entwined with his. Maybe asking a medieval man to declare "Milady, I swear I will honor you with all I have! I will keep myself in tip-top shape for your admiring gaze, I will study hard and read sex manuals dilligently so that I can annoint you with unspeakably delicious pleasures on every flat surface of our castle vertical and horizontal and diagonal, and I will do all the housework on weekends so that you can stay in bed until two in the afternoon, and yes, I will cook too every other day!" is pushing it, but at least a small gesture of respect will be nice.
The way these two's relationship turns out, though, is something that is 90% lust, 8% pouting and petulance, and 2% wishful thinking on Brighid's part.
If the relationship aspect is done better, MLdB would be a very good read. There are many good things to like about this book, but they are all secondary issues to the romance.
Oh, yes, I realized what was wrong with the cover right after I finished the book. It's the guy on the horse, which is so wrong, because judging from the story inside, it should be a giant Mr Wonky on the horse instead. Really, I seriously hope the two young people will learn and grow up first, or Daddy de Burgh is going to have to spare a few hours of his time every week to play Marriage Counselor.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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