Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-7090-X
Historical Romance, 2002
Barbara Pierce’s A Gentleman at Heart has a heroine that’s quite extraordinary, really.
This story is a well-written take on the old “I’m a bastard son of a nobleman, so now I will seduce and ruin my half-brother’s girlie for revenge, but oops, she’s so hot and wild, but I only change my mind about revenge after we have done the deed and she has found me out, but she will forgive me in the end, yeah, and my, is this a very long run-on sentence or what?” premise. This kind of plot is always a gamble, and in this case, I still loathe the hero Keanan “Reckless” Mallory enough to want him at least castrated.
Wynne Bedegrayne is some sort like a Florence Nightingale crossed with Reckless Susie. She helps the great unwashed lower class folks in need, and one day she is trying to smuggle a kid away from her abusive father when she is caught. She is doing an almost good job in beating down her opponents with a rock when Keanan Mallory, champion pugilist, comes in fresh from his recent win nearby and trashes the bastards really bad.
Cool, I say, and snuggle down to read, certain that I will enjoy this book a lot.
Alas, it is not meant to be. While Wynne remain an interesting character – beautiful, with convictions, willpower, and intelligence even as she dashes around in a paradoxical sense of recklessness – Keanan is a train wreck. I’m still not sure how a champion boxer can be admitted into the fine ballrooms of the Ton, but I’m willing to suspend my disbelief there. What I can’t stand is Keanan’s horrible, horrible habit of humiliating and insulting Wynne as if by habit, only to feel bad about it later. In fact, he tells me he is feeling bad, but he never tells Wynne, who, if you ask me, is the one who should be told in the first place.
Also factor in his stupid insistence on taking out his anger on the way his life is going on Wynne, and his barely controlled violence seems like a recipe for tragedy. If this is a gentleman at heart, yeah, I’m the Queen of England and I’m demanding the execution of this jerk.
But it all boils down to the final grovel, right? What grovel? Even after Wynne lashes out in a superficial way late in the story, he is still acting as if it is goddamned right that the world falls into place for him and he’ll lash out at Wynne, his easiest target, again if he has to.
Still, it’s well written though, although in this case it’s well-written enough to make me pity the heroine. She deserves better, the poor, poor thing. Pity may not be what the author wants me to feel, but in this case, that’s all I feel, alas. Pity Wynne and me for knowing that sorry white trash Keanan, oh woe me and Wynne indeed.