Avon, $6.99, ISBN 0-06-050811-6
Historical Romance, 2003
Fool for Love is two very different books joined together. The first half is a continuation of the delightful comedy that has this author winning me over in her Avon debut Duchess in Love. The second half is a really silly comedy of tiresome errors more reminiscent of the old Eloisa James, served with free-flow whine in the All the Silly Plot Contrivances and Miscommunication Issues You Can Eat buffet cart. Since the buffet cart is the late half of the story, the whole thing ends on a most unsatisfying low note.
Henrietta Maclellan starts out like the usual bluestocking with a limp type. Her injury has made it impossible to give birth to kiddies without endangering her life. So she spends her time teaching kiddies and secretly yearning for kiddies of her own. Meanwhile, in London, Simon Darby is not happy when her aunt, the infamous Esme, is pregnant, presumably from the carnal coup de grace she administered to her husband. Only he isn’t sure that Esme carrying her late husband’s kid. He decides to get to the country where Esme is rusticating, determined to ensure his position as heir to his late uncle’s properties and money. (Of course, he’s concerned because he’s the guardian of his two stepsisters. It’s not as if he needs the money for his mistresses and carousing… wait a minute.)
Of course, Simon brings his two bratty sisters along, and guess who comes over and wins the kiddies over. Simon finds himself attracted to her, she he, and the story gambols pleasantly in a delightful comedy until the discordant second half. While I am disappointed by this book in that I am really hoping Fool for Love will be Esme’s story, nonetheless I find myself charmed by the characters. Henrietta seems to be a charming and confident lady with some brainpower and cute wit, Danby is appropriately roguish, Esme is adorable (even if she’s often a little too much of a ‘slutty lady repents’ character here), and surprise, the two kids amuse rather than annoy.
However, the author then introduces a painful plot contrivance that forces the two characters to marry. I don’t understand why she needs to do this. Simon and Henrietta are doing fine on their own. They kiss and the kiss is so romantic! But Eloisa James just has to have Henrietta writing a love letter to herself and signing it from Simon, and this letter is read in a public place by mistake. So now these two are forced to marry, and of course he has issues! How can he marry a woman he is planning to marry only a few pages back! Er, okay, let’s try again. Her stepmother reveals to him the true extent of Henrietta’s handicap – that is, Henrietta can never carry a child – so now, he complains that he can never sleep with her because he can’t get her with child! Okay, it sounds just a little bit better now, but it’s still an awful plot contrivance nonetheless. This stupid contrivance doesn’t make sense. Am I supposed to believe that a sexually experienced man like Simon does not know even one birth control method of his time?
Also, Simon and Henrietta start acting completely out of character. Simon, the supposedly charming guy, turns into a stupid oaf. Henrietta turns from an intelligent woman into a pathetically ignorant woman with no self-respect, with her whining ad nauseum that she is ugly, she is unlovable, and more. Then Esme concocts an even more asinine plot for Henrietta to trick the man into marrying her for real, and come on, it’s a known fact that braindead girlies and stupid plots go together like a match to a dynamite. Fool for Love never recovers from this terminally bad misstep of a plot contrivance and even a pretty romantic dance scene towards the end fails to redeem the book satisfactorily.
Esme does get her happy ending. Sort of. She and Sebastian have some of the best scenes in this book, with Sebastian’s devotion to her really hitting all the right buttons of mine. It is too bad that their scenes in this book are so few.
Eloisa James really catches me off-guard with her delightful Duchess in Love, but here, there’s a big danger of her bad habits (overusing ridiculous plot devices, dumbing down her characters, and prolonging painfully inane misunderstandings for too, too long) resurfacing to ruin her story. This book is a tough one to grade. I really love the first half, but I can really do without having to endure the painfully asinine second half. All in all, I wish the author isn’t so big a fool for bad plot contrivances. She can write very well – her prose has a nice lyrical quality to it and her characters’ wit and self-awareness (in their more lucid moments) are matched only by Christina Dodd at her wittiest and sharpest. That is, if only she can plot better.