Harlequin Historical, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-29805-1
Historical Romance, 2014
William Felkirk wakes up one fine morning from what seems like a bad hangover to discover that he may have been out far longer than he’d thought. I mean, he’s been out cold for a few months. He has no memory of the last six months, but his family tell him that he’s now married to Justine, who has tirelessly cared for him all this while. Justine is pretty enough, but he doesn’t remember meeting her, much less marrying her. She has won over his mother, his brother and the man’s wife, and even Will’s own snooty valet. What is going on here?
Justine isn’t who she claims to be, naturally, or else there would be not much of a story here, heh. As she and Will fall in love, what will happen when he discovers – da-da-dum – The Truth About Lady Felkirk?
Well, The Truth About Lady Felkirk is a pretty interesting story. It’s not the usual run-of-the-mill bluestockings-ballroom-rake story, although the main characters are actually stock archetypes by themselves, so this one’s a refreshing kind of a different read. The author does a pretty good job in making the characters come alive despite their familiar trappings.
Still, while this is an entertaining read, I feel that it is missing a strong emotional core. Sure, there are plenty of dramatic moments and suspense arising from Justine and me wondering what will happen when the shoe finally drops, but the romance never comes alive. The story is more about the secrets Justine is keeping and the way she tries to keep up her masquerade for the sake of her sister. Will and Justine do fall in love, but that’s because this is a romance novel and it’s a given that they have to have a happy ending together. I don’t, unfortunately, get to see any believable emotional development that convince me that these two really are in love.
I confess to rolling up my eyes when I discover that Justine is doing what she does here for the usual “It’s for a vulnerable younger sibling!” reason, a played out premise that is made even more eye-rolling here when the younger sister in question isn’t even mortally ill or crippled or suffering from something that warrants such a dramatic stunt from Justine. However, Justine pulls off her role here very well, without the author resorting to annoying stunts like having the heroine babble, stammer, or behave in another dumb ways to make the heroine more likable. I like that. It’s really nice to read about a heroine who, when being undercover of sorts, does her thing without being such an obvious dolt that I wonder about the intelligence of the people around her who buy her act.
Will is a dolt, though. I don’t know whether to laugh or snort when he insists that he can’t trust Justine even after she has cared for him like Florence Nightingale on a mission for the last few months. “But a compassionate stranger might have done the same for me,” he tells his brother after Adam talks about Justine’s 24/7 nursing of him. He growls and snarls at Justine, thinking in his head that she must be trying to manipulate him into trusting her using her honey pot, only to then scowl when she doesn’t seem to want to have sex with him, because, in his way of thinking, she can’t really be his wife if she doesn’t leap to dance on his lap when he beckons. This guy comes off as smart as a broken toaster, and his hilariously disproportionate sense of entitlement only makes it harder for me to take him seriously. The fact that he needs secondary characters, even a little girl, to spell things out to him doesn’t help.
Still, the romance between these two characters may still be believable if the author had more pages to work with. Adding to my disappointment is how the last third or so of the book is basically about the bad guy coming after our hero and heroine again and again like that Terminator cyborg to the point of overkill, when I feel that this villain could have been eliminated quickly to make way for more opportunities for the hero and the heroine to work out the trust issues standing between them. As it is, by the last page, the bad guy is out of the picture, but these two don’t really know one another, so it’s hard to believe that they will have a happily ever after like the author claims.