Harlequin Historical, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-29826-6
Historical Romance, 2015
Now, we all know that Regency romance heroines have a tendency to run into a man’s quarters just when he’s barely decent, waving an unloaded gun in shaking hands while stammering like a dolt. It’s practically a moron du jour, a plot opening that is basically the fastest way to get an innocent damsel to gawk at a man’s naked torso and accelerate her long overdue puberty. I understand that. I don’t understand, however, an author’s reliance on the heroine’s stupidity to fuel the story, and Laura Townsend’s stupidity has enough power to cause a nuclear meltdown.
Laura and her rheumatoid-stricken mother live with a wicked uncle who gambles incessantly. Laura and her mother had pawned so many things off as a result of that man’s debts. And yet, when moneylender Philip Rathbone’s men come to seize away the merchandise of the family tailor store, Laura knows that Philip must have done this because he’s just a brute male of the species. Because this is the 19th century and Laura lives in the Seven Dials, I can be sure that Laura doesn’t have access to Tumblr, but if she does, she’d be the one to spend all day insisting that men are all scumbags who should be killed with extreme prejudice, insert dumb hashtag here. Laura naturally takes an unloaded gun into Phillip’s place, as he has no intention to shoot. Philip happens to be in the bath, so Laura gets a good look while she stands there hissing and snarling like an imbecile trying to imitate a boiling kettle.
Philip points out that he just took what was owed to him as Laura’s uncle borrowed money and then gambled everything away. Laura is like, oh, why didn’t she think of that. Why indeed. Anyway, she is sent home, but Philip realizes that this Laura is a witty, intelligent, and practical woman – don’t ask, it’s Georgie Lee’s script, so we may as well nod politely and go along with it – the perfect person to be his new wife of convenience. It’s “convenience” – literally – because he needs a nanny for his daughter and a mother for his sister, so he may as well marry Laura!
Laura reluctantly agrees, and then spends chapters after chapters telling herself that she can’t go through this. Never mind that her uncle has allowed a pimp to place a pre-order on her (I suppose there are brothel patrons who would have a fetish for 23-year old virgins) so Philip is her only protection now, or that Philip has placed her mother into a nice place with warm fire, that Philip has been nothing but a generous gentleman all this while. She doesn’t want to be a whore! She doesn’t want to sell herself for money! This is horrible! Horrible! Worst fate ever!
Sigh. Heroines like this imbecile are the ones who really deserve to spend a week being an actual prostitute servicing rough men for barely enough to pay their pimp, I tell you. You give them something good, and they would still find an excuse to paint the benefactor as an oppressor while posturing as a maligned victim. She deserves to die in Tumblr, not gracing this story and getting her happy ending. Yes, for a very long time in this story, despite the fact that Philip has given her security and more, she casts aspersions on his character and generally behaves like an ungrateful brat. Philip dares to collect money from the people who owe him – this is clearly a show of moral deficiency and she must tell him so, hurtfully! Of course, if Philip doesn’t make his money back, he won’t be able to give her and her mother all the creature comforts they are enjoying, but Laura will never get that. She’s too busy portraying herself as a martyr trapped in cruel circumstances, despite the fact that she’s actually one of the luckiest Seven Dials slummers out there.
A Debt Paid in Marriage becomes a far less painful read once Laura decides that she’d try to find some kind of middle ground with Philip, but this happens only in the late quarter or so of the story. By that point, my eyes are so tired from all the rolling upwards I subjected them to. Alas, too late, I’m already tired of the heroine by then.
Georgie Lee’s A Debt Paid in Marriage has a heroine who imagines that she is a heroic martyr when, in truth, she’s just being an ungrateful and irrational shrew who gets extra petty and shrill when she becomes stupid and emotional, which is often. She sometimes realizes that she had been dumb and feels some regret, but she just keeps charging ahead anyway, so her moments of self awareness eventually seem more like a red flag being waved in front of me. I’m glad when I reach the last page, because that tiresome creature can really wear away at my poor delicate nerves. Oh well, at least the whole thing is over now.