Avon, $6.99, ISBN 0-06-057748-7
Historical Romance, 2004
It is a cosmic rule that sequels tend to be inferior when compared to the original works that inspired these sequels, so I probably shouldn’t be too surprised when Lady Whistledown Strikes Back turns out to be a dull and even redundant addition to the Lady Whistledown series. The only one that really stands out is Karen Hawkins’s The Only One for Me, and even so, the premise itself is a little shaky.
Julia Quinn kicks off the show with The First Kiss. Tillie Howard and Peter Thompson are attending their peer Lady Neely’s dinner party when a necklace is stolen. The theft quite ruins the mood, needless to say, and the blossoming relationship between Tillie and Peter, her late brother’s friend, may hit a snag when Lady Whistledown makes it clear that she thinks the penniless Peter a suspect in the theft. I don’t care if Lady Whistledown is married to one of the bloody perfect Bridgertons, I find it tacky that she’s given leeway to nominate her suspects in her columns now. Even more tacky, perhaps, is the inadvertent perfection of the Bridgertons and their buddies in this story which essentially robs the novella of what little suspense it has. All I get in a tepid relationship which despite being well written fails to bring on anything new or interesting. It’s a familiar poor-boy rich-girl story.
Mia Ryan’s The Last Temptation is another story that is just there. Isabella Martin, Lady Neely’s companion, is thirty and decides that it’s time she gets kissed. Lady Neely sends her to the home of a rake, Lord Roxburgh, so that she can help Roxburgh plan a party (really, I’m not inventing any of this up), but Roxburgh miraculously mistakes a supposedly dowdy companion as his mistress and muah, muah! Normally a kiss under such circumstance would be quite icky or at least embarrassing, but Isabella instead finally enters the first blush of puberty after twenty years too late. Roxburgh is a standard rake with commitment issues, while Isabella is the typical nitwit Regency historical heroine who’s nothing more than a transplanted Harlequin Blaze heroine. She also giggles, by the way, when she’s trying to act like an overemotional twit. This is another familiar “dowdy duckling who’s actually beautiful”, although this duckling behave more like a fourteen year old teenager than a thirty-year old spinster, and “stock rake type” story, only with an extra dose of annoying hee-hee-hee’s courtesy of the heroine.
Suzanne Enoch’s The Best of Both Worlds would be more enjoyable if it doesn’t feel like a story that is abruptly cut down in length to fit the word count. Charlotte Birling is determined to live a scandal-free life after witnessing firsthand the consequences that befall a less-than-discreet relative, but she’s falling in love with Lord Matson. Again, this is yet another familiar “dowdy type who’s actually gorgeous heroine meets rake” story. The characters are well-drawn, but I can’t help thinking that they are watered down versions of those characters in the author’s full-length stories of this ilk. Like Julia Quinn’s story, The Best of Both Worlds is readable, but it doesn’t have anything that makes it stand out as memorable.
Karen Hawkin’s The Only One for Me does stand out for several reasons. One, it is not a “rake meets and debauches good virginal gal” story. It is, in fact, a reunion story. Two, the characters in this book actually experience hurt and grief and their love story addresses the issue of trust as well as love. It’s not just a “how long more until she gets laid?” story like the other three stories. Unfortunately, this is a big misunderstanding story that doesn’t successfully pull off its flimsy premise.
Max and Sophia were happily married once upon a time, until he was accused of cheating at cards and she harbored some suspicions about his innocence. Like some drama queen, Max got offended and left the wife behind in England while he brooded his way all over the Continent. Twelve years later, Sophia has had enough and decides to file for annulment. She’s such an exemplary Regency historical heroine. Forget twelve years later, two years later I’d have gutted the useless husband and kick his body into the Thames if I were her. Anyway, Max, acting like a drama queen again, decides to come back and sweet talk his way back into his wife’s company. At Lady Neely’s dinner party when the necklace is stolen, Sophia’s faith in her husband is tested one more time when he’s suspected of being the thief in question. No, Sophia doesn’t frame her husband for revenge, although if she does that, this story would be a keeper.
Despite the very frustrating premise, Max and Sophia are however very well-written and their attempts at reconciliation have some emotional poignancy in them. But it’s hard to forget that a simple communication at any one time in those twelve years could have cleared up a lot of issues between those two. It is a long time for the both of them to act like silly children in a prolonged sulk session.
Overall, Lady Whistledown Strikes Back doesn’t arouse any emotion on my part other than indifference. At the risk of sounding like a judge on American Idol, I find this anthology a case of where all four authors fail to bring it into the house to wow me. Dawg, I’m looking for the bomb, and there’s just no bomb in this baby.
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