by Emma Wildes, historical (2012)
Signet, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-451-23528-2
Lady Lillian Bourne once eloped with Arthur, now Lord Sebring, but the man apparently changed his mind once they reached their destination and ended up marrying another woman. Oops. In the four years since, Lillian is a social pariah who is only now slowly coming back to polite society. While she wants to be the model of propriety this time around, she finds herself locked in a room during a party with Damien Northfield, our hero who is naturally a former spy and all-time rake.
He is in town to help a friend look into the matter of this friend's cousing being blackmailed, and it soon suggests that Lillian is a part of this mess, even if she is in the mess as kind of unwitting bystander in the wrong place at the wrong time. It's convenient that he's also attracted to her.
Meanwhile, Lillian's brother James is involved with Regina Daudet, an unconventional artist. She's supposed to be merely his mistress, but things become complicated when they realize that they are more fond of one another than they initially expected. Oh, what to do?
Twice Fallen is part of the Ladies In Waiting series, but it can stand alone. This does not mean that it is an easy read, however. There are many secondary characters here cluttering up the place and interacting with our main characters in a rather superfluous "Aren't we happy? Yes, we're so happy!" manner that adds little to the plot. Normally, it's nice to see our main characters have so many friends, but there are already two romances here and a mystery subplot. Cramming the story with such scenes means that all these plot elements end up being on the underdeveloped side, especially the story of Regina and James.
I mean, yes, it's so nice that Regina and James love each other, but so what, right? Unless I subscribe to the belief that one has to marry after one is in love, there is no compelling reason why these two can't just continue to be all sweet and randy in their love pad. People in that time do the nobleman-mistress thing all the time. Okay, even if I buy the fact that James loves Regina so much that he has to marry her, I find it hard to believe that he is so casual about this. There will be implications to his social standing, and his whole life would probably have to change. Addressing all this would actually make James's determination to marry Regina more romantic, as he would be sacrificing some nice things to be with his love, but instead, the author just waves any potential complications aside using the "Who cares what people think?" line of reasoning.
Worse, it is Regina who starts moaning that she is not worthy to marry James because of her pedigree, blah blah blah. This completely ruins her character. She's supposed to be this free-thinking feminist sort, so to have her start acting about how she really wants to get married but she can't because she loves the man too much - that turns her entire personality into a lie. At the end of the day, Regina is just another typical romance heroine.
Lillian and Damien also have their story ruined by the author's dipping into unimaginative clichés. They have some good chemistry, but yikes, when details come out about her relationship with Arthur, she turns into another martyr who selflessly sacrifices her entire existence because she cares too much about her friend and she also wants to marry for love (and she'd rather be ruined forever than to be in a loveless marriage). While the whole thing makes me roll up my eyes, I have to admit that the author manages to tie the whole Arthur issue nicely into the rest of the plot. However, everything about this plot is a cliché piled upon more clichés, right down to the identity and motivations of the one-dimensional villain. Who is pegged as insane because, you know, evil people can't go about being evil without being insane as well. I actually thought the mystery was fascinating - and was thus frustrated when the mystery kept being interrupted by ballroom scenes or scenes of secondary characters showing me how happily married they were - so the whole denouement being a barrage of tired and overused plot devices is a huge let-down. I feel like the author has wasted my time, actually.
Twice Fallen has some intriguing premises, and the story does have some potential, but there are too many things here and not enough space for them to become fully fleshed out. The characters are interesting in their own right, but they are acting out story lines that are unimaginative and too familiar for their own good - story lines that do not allow these characters to shine as much as they should. Therefore, this story never comes together as well as it should have been. It's still a decent read in many ways, which makes it all the more disappointing at the end of the day.
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