Avon, $5.99, ISBN 978-0-06-222983-0
Historical Romance, 2014
A romance novel revolving around a mystery set in the style of Clue or Cluedo (depending on which side of the Atlantic you’re in at the moment) is always intriguing, but I Adored a Lord fumbles greatly in its execution. It tries to be clever, but it’s nowhere close to getting there.
This is the second book in the The Prince Catchers series, but aside from the premise of three orphaned sisters wanting to marry a prince because a fortune teller once told them that doing so would lead them to their parents’ bosom, this one may as well be a stand alone story. Ravenna Caulfield is summoned by her sister to this French castle, Chateau Chevriot, where she finds herself among a few young ladies vying for a prince’s attention and, hopefully, hand in marriage. She doesn’t want to marry the prince, naturally, as Ravenna has eyes only for the prince’s brother Vitor Courtenay, who drunkenly pins her to the ground and forces a kiss on her the first time they meet. Naturally, she gives away the milk for free some time down the road to this man.
Is it just me or the standards of these romance heroines have plunged abysmally in the last few years? I’d think these ladies would at least hold out for a necklace before giving it away, but I guess times have changed. Or maybe it’s all the pollutants in the environment scrambling their brains these days.
These two stumble upon a dead body while they are in the early stages of him verbally coming on to her like a randy octopus in their courtship, and finding the body actually gets him even more randy and he ends that scene with more promises to invade her maidenly virtue with his rampant bologna sausage. The fact that there is a dead man around doesn’t bother them or the others in the castle. Let’s throw a play!
Such a story can work, but only if the author ramps up the absurdity to the heights of campy comedy. But instead of defiant over the top comedy, the author opts for a low-key note. As a result, everyone in this story resemble the cards in the Cluedo game. They all have some back story and a one-note personality trait, but they never resemble human beings. And yet, they are never funny enough to distract me. Think of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books: none of the characters there remotely resemble real people, but they are all outrageous and entertaining enough to make me laugh and make an impression. That level of humor could have made this story work.
Instead, the author relies on tried and true tired tropes. Look, the mean girls are all tramps. Literally. Our hero actually points out to Ravenna how those women aren’t virgins, as if the lack of virginity alone is a big black mark against their character. Of course, you can pull the historical authenticity card here, but then again, these people all talk like modern-day folks, and these people are also acting like it’s only a cockroach that went splat from the way they go their merry way after a dead dude is found. The author can’t have it both ways. Either go all out anachronistic or stick to the whole old-fashioned vibe, just don’t go all weird hybrid-like here. Factor in how the hero and his male buddies often discuss the women here in terms of their beauty, their ability to provide sexual pleasure to these men, and such, and there is an underlying tone of chauvinism that can be pretty stark for a story that is supposed to be funny.
Then again, maybe that’s to be expected. The hero spends the entire “courtship” making statements like how he’d like to tie the heroine up in bed, as if coming on so strong like some annoying dog that just won’t stop humping one’s leg is supposed to be swoon-worthy. Maybe I’m just old, but I find such aggressive nonsense to be on the trying too hard side, the antics of some poor old sod desperate to compensate for his half-inch pee-pee. The fact that Ravenna apparently finds such antics romantic enough to spread the jam like she’s giving out free bread to the homeless is quite depressing. At least get a pat in the head first, darling, before doing such… things. What happened to the “pearls first, then poke” policy?
There is also a “privilege of the aristocracy” vibe here that can be quite disconcerting. In addition to being so forward to the point of making a certain cartoon skunk look like Casanova in comparison, Vitor also falls back onto the belief that rank is right. When confronted with the vigilante action of a working class man who tries to avenge the honor of his daughter after his attempts to seek redress fails (everyone that matters is too drunk to be bothered to care), Vitor actually condemns the man as someone overwhelmed with evil passions. I’ve often joked about how so many romance novels hypocritically criticize the abuse of power by the nobility while insisting that the heroes be titled men anyway, but Katharine Ashe actually takes this to a higher level: Ravenna talks about the mean girls in the nobility, as if her working class upbringing automatically bestows virtue beyond compare, even as the author sticks her to a member of the nobility who seems to hold a philosophy that is 180 from Ravenna’s. Or maybe nobility is only bad if it comes with XX chromosomes – Johnny Bravo’s more aggressive pushy brother is celebrated as a romance hero, his useless sibling is “rewarded” with a bride, and their equally useless father is happy. As long as you have a penis, you are automatically infallible and awesome, I guess.
I Adored a Lord is screwed up in a lot of ways, but its biggest problem is the fact that it is a story that requires a more heavy dose of camp to pull off its premise. As for its other problems… well, I suppose some fanatical Anglophiles somewhere would probably lap everything up and declare Katharine Ashe an author after their own heart. Just not me, though. Its contemporary overtones and certain elements that would be problematic if judged by contemporary standards don’t mix together well at all. Many things about I Adored a Lord suggest to me that the story is probably pushed out in some kind of literary version of prematurely induced labor when the author hadn’t completely thought things through.