Ivy, $6.99, ISBN 0-8041-1974-0
Historical Romance, 2003
Gaelen Foley can write great heroes. She has yet to write a decent heroine that can be a worthy match for the hero. Nowhere is this more evident than in her latest, Lady of Desire, which pairs up a charming activist slum hero turned unpolished nobleman with a very stereotypical heroine. Jacinda “Just Loonda” Knight really annoys me in the first half of the book while the hero isn’t winning me over with his derivative “noble slum king” act. During the second half, however, the hero finally makes sense and I end up liking him a lot. The heroine, well, I hope she’ll go back to school and finish her education one day.
The story begins with our heroine Just Loonda – 18 going on 13 – trying to flee to Paris to avoid an arranged marriage. The suitor is not bad, it’s just that our heroine doesn’t feel her heart pounding or some rot when she’s with him. Ergo, no love, no hanky-panky, where’s the ticket to Paris, that sort of thing. As what usually happens when addle-pated bluestockings attempt to travel solo, she loses all her money faster than you can say “English bluestocking, make way for calamity waiting to happen!” Even more heroic, she chases the pickpocket into a dark and scary alley, she in her finery, jewels, and all, until she realizes that she is very much knee-deep in crap. Oops.
She stumbles upon our hero Billy Blade and his gang of ruffians doing something they shouldn’t be doing, hides in a corner, sees a rat and goes “Eeek!”… oopsie again.
I tell you, these heroines are so hilarious when they leave the house.
Luckily, our hero isn’t the sell-her-to-Drury-Lane type. He brings her back to her place, not that she is happy, mind you, because she’d rather die or do something equally drastic than to marry without love. For some inconceivable reason, he finds this squealing, pert, argumentative, and absolutely immature bag of hot air sexy, and steals a kiss. Muah, muah, muah. Stars shine in their eyes but no, she balks at this… this… scoundrel taking advantage of her like that!
Hurt, our hero decides to show her and all those posh toffs his finger by increasing the rate of his criminal activities. Of course, distracted by the walking Barbie doll, he leads his buddies into disaster. Lucky for him, his father is a nobleman who steps in to save his bastard kid from the gallows. Daddy has lost his “legal” heir, you see, and he’d rather get his spare brat to inherit rather than to let the title slip to somebody who doesn’t possess Daddy’s superior genes. Taking this opportunity to save his friends, Billy agrees.
The next time our heroine Just Loonda encounters Billy Blade, he’s Lord Rackford. His deal with Daddy also sees him making some side deals with Bow Street, so he is also some secret superhero in the making as well. In short, he’s got it made. Just Loonda, however, reacts just like a typical Barbie heroine will – she gives him the cut because he makes her all hot and breathless, and she can’t have him doing that to her! Later, she will feel remorse and help him fit into her world, and with that, she finally grows some brain, much to my relief. By then, half the book is gone and it’s painful to follow her antics to this point.
To be fair, Ms Foley knows Just Loonda is immature. Just Loonda is supposed to start out this way and she is supposed to change for the better. Yet I find this aspect not done well enough – it’s quite perplexing to see Billy attracted to this ninny when Just Loonda is stomping her foot and acting like a child with breasts. Her metamorphosis doesn’t seem to come from inside her – she changes because the author heavy-handedly forces her to change, and I never sense any genuine urge to change from Just Loonda herself. I hope I am making sense here.
Billy, however, is a great hero. True to his word, he uses his newfound title and power to push forward his own notions of social reforms. This is no idle rake whining about his circumstances – Billy is the kind of guy who makes a difference. He’s not fond of the liberal Whigs though.
Compared to him, Just Loonda is almost a non-entity. She lacks Billy’s drive or vision. I like how she defends Billy from her more snobby peers, but I wish she will actually do something. I find it disappointing that in the end, Billy and Just Loonda merely play the stereotypical roles of a man who finds his true self by making a difference to others around him and a woman who finds her true self by marrying a man. He changes the world, she learns that she loves her man. How… sigh, never mind. In the end, I can’t help wishing that Billy has met and sparred wits with, oh, I don’t know, a suffragist will be nice.
The second half is a pretty good read, but the first half suffers from too much “impetuous heroine running amok” antics. The second half is better, but I can’t help wishing that the heroine has been much more worthy of the hero. It’s a case of Lady Needs More Desire if you ask me.