Harlequin HQN, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-373-77845-4
Historical Romance, 2014
Romance novels based around the premise as set in Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’s Les Liaisons dangereuses – later adapted for American box-office via the films Dangerous Liaisons and Cruel Intentions – aren’t anything new, but the hero and the heroine based on the villains Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont certainly are something that I don’t come across every day. Usually the hero falls for the victim of the plot, as romance heroes can get away more easily with bad behavior compared to romance heroines, especially when they are “redeemed” by the good girl. Julia London wants to make life hard for herself, however, so the heroine plays the role of the female schemer in this story.
Honor Cabot, the eldest of the Cabot sisters (all of whom already have their books lined up, naturally), likes to think of herself as cunning, independent, and playing by her own rules. Of course, she is very aware that there are rules bounding her, but she imagines that she’s smart enough to skirt around them and do things her way. She realizes just how much limiting being an unmarried woman of her age can be when her stepbrother is poised to marry Honor’s former best friend, Monica. Monica makes it very clear that, once she is Augustine’s wife and Augustine becomes the new Earl of Beckington, she’d persuade Augustine to pack off Honor, her sisters, and her mother to the country estate. It’s within Augustine’s right to do this, too.
Honor’s mother has what we’d call Alzheimer’s disease today, and Honor is certain that the poor woman is not going to get the care she deserves once Augustine is married. Also, Honor doesn’t want her lifestyle as the popular but scandalous diamond of the Ton to be disrupted, and she also doesn’t want to get married, so she devises a plan. She’d get the notorious George Easton, a self-made man and rumored illegitimate son of a nobleman, to seduce Monica into crying off her upcoming wedding. George, however, has eyes only for Honor, so there are indeed lots of trouble here.
The Trouble with Honor is going to cause hives in readers who prefer their heroines to be on the minty virtuous side. The author goes the extra mile to make Honor likable – she is doing this for her mother and her younger sisters as much as herself, Monica really does intend to go through with her plan to pack off the unwanted relatives to the countryside for good, and George doesn’t hesitate to call Honor out when she’s being really despicable. However, Honor is a selfish and self-absorbed heroine. I don’t mind this, especially considering that Honor has the cunning and the guts to go all out and get things done her way. If the heroine is going to be unlikable, let her do it with style, charisma, and nerve – that’s what I always say, and Honor for the most part is such a heroine.
She’s a good match for George, who is in every way her male counterpart, only he is often far more aware of the potential consequences of their actions that she is. For a long time, these two scheme, hiss, trade barbs, and soak themselves in fabulous sexual tension like true professionals.
As a bonus, Monica is on to George and Honor, so she’s no dim-witted twit. She is also a deeper character than what she seems at first, and she and Honor have a love-hate relationship that develops into something more interesting as the story progresses.
The trouble with this story, however, is that the characters eventually start to behave silly as the story progresses. Honor’s insistence on not marrying, even if this means losing everything she holds dear, starts to seem like a typical act of martyrdom from the friendly neighborhood dingbat heroine, while George’s insistence on dumping her – even after he has ruined her in every way, for her own good because he didn’t come out from the womb of a woman married to a titled gentleman – is a self-serving sadistic act of someone determined to be a martyr even if it means destroying the reputation of the person he claims to love. Both of them really test my patience to the point that I am gritting my teeth as I force myself to finish the last few chapters of this book. Why did I imagine that I liked these two again?
Still, despite the poor pay-off of The Trouble with Honor, I can’t bring myself to be hard on it. The author took some risks here, and most of them – basically, everything about Honor – turn out well. It’s the hero and the heroine doing typical but stupid things in the end that cheeses me off. Still, I’d recommend this to folks looking for a story that doesn’t follow the same tropes and formula. It’s not perfect, but it does quite a number of things very well.