by Barbara Dawson Smith, historical (2004)
St Martin's Press, $6.99, ISBN 0-312-98230-5
There's nothing more boring than a book crammed with tedious feitsy independent heroine and fake rake clichés with an unsatisfying cop-out redemption of a jerk hero who spends the whole book bullying a sexually ignorant dingbat into submission. I know, by virtue of this book being a historical Regency, there has to be some degree of sexual ignorance even if the heroine is supposed to be intelligent, but this particular story is one I find rather distasteful because the heroine is never a match for the hero at all times.
Fifteen-year old Cynthia Grey is married off to our hero Samuel Firth in order for her father to clear his gambling debts. Samuel is an illegitimate son of a nobleman who uses his bastardy as an excuse to act like a rampaging asshole, and this asshole behavior is in full bloom when he is disgusted with his wife's hysterical tears on her wedding night and promptly abandons her for some global trip that will last for the next four years. Samuel, you jerk, of course she's hysterical - she's fifteen, for chrissakes! I am rather squicked out that he wants to consummate the relationship but I try to overlook that, bearing in mind that this is a historical after all. But what Samuel does next don't make him any more endearing to me.
Four years later, Cynthia decides to file for a separation, which leads Samuel to return and try to manipulate her sexually into giving up that notion so that he will not be disgraced by any scandal. This could have been a palatable story if the author allows Cynthia to at least stand up to Samuel, but Cynthia miraculously manages to carry an attraction to her absent spouse after all these years, which only makes her very vulnerable to Samuel. On the other hand, Samuel is allowed to behave like a raging jackass who bullies his wife and uses sex as a means to get her to do whatever he says. I have no idea why Cynthia will even want anything to do with this wife, and certainly I don't understand how she can get that "ta-da, I'm still attracted to him!" thing going with him. A half-hearted suspense subplot conveniently wraps up things, punctuated with tedious "it's never his fault, he has such a sad past" justifications, and the story conveniently overlooks many pertinent issues in the relationship such as trust, respect, and any actual basis for a relationship that goes beyond physical attraction.
The most unfortunate thing is, the whole debacle that is this story need not happen if both characters wise up and talk. But Samuel is so bent on being a jerk and Cynthia is just as determined to be his punching bag-cum-blow up doll that this story ends up coming off like a very predictable but oh-so-irritating story of how a jerk gets a new doormat.
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