Avon, $6.99, ISBN 0-06-059330-X
Historical Romance, 2004
A Lady of His Own is Stephanie Laurens’s third entry into the Bastion Club series and the nine hundredth replicate of the one book that she has been rewriting again and again throughout her career. But hey, that’s okay if the formula is interesting but this book, however, is more boring than listening to flies buzzing around one’s head on a sleepy afternoon. It’s the spy subplot. It is as flimsy as a typical Regency historical throwaway spy subplot could be but Ms Laurens just drags it on and on in a stale manner even as she adds red herrings most ineptly that the subplot becomes more cumbersome than suspenseful.
Charles St Austell is an ex-spy during That War who is bored with the women of the Ton but not wanting to marry so he and his friends set up the Bastion Club as the last refuge against women, blah blah blah. Not knowing that all he really wants is a woman who dresses up in boy’s clothings – because he’s too repressed to admit that he likes boys, perhaps? – he gratefully accepts a mission from his ex-boss and returns to his estate in Cornwall to check out some smugglers and see what they are up to. I’m always amazed at how these people always have smugglers crawling up every nook and cranny of these ex-spy rakish noblemen’s estates.
One night Charles spots a boy running around at night in his place. Since it’s not a boy, it can only be a romance heroine. Meet Penelope Selborne. At twenty-nine, she declares that she’s on the shelf, although this virtuous missy isn’t above giving out to handsome men who catch her fancy in the name of True Love even as she will never marry those men she slept with outside the sanctity of marriage because they never told her they loved her. In real life, these women are probably in need of some self-awareness – or at least they should stop pretending that they are better than women who cheerfully have sex for the sake of having sex. In a Stephanie Laurens book, women like Penelope are the kind of women men want to marry. Indeed, Penelope has slept with Charles thirteen years ago but please don’t stone her, Genteel Readers. Those Cynster, er, Bastion men are so-ooo-ooo hot so how could any one-note stereotype woman resist them?
Because this book needs a “noble” excuse for Penelope to start putting out again – just in case people mistake her for being cheap but when she’s not cheap, she’s just doing it for love – the author has Penelope agreeing to be in close proximity with Charles in order to “assist” Charles in his investigations. See, her father and brother – all dead and probably watching from the heavens as Penelope’s milkshake brings all the boys to the yard – may be spies and Penelope doesn’t want that to come out or her sisters’ reputation will be ruined and they will never marry or something. (That is, if people don’t hear first about Penelope’s milkshake shop, but that doesn’t factor at all in Penelope’s decision as she puts out again and again to Charles. Love, baby, it’s all about love. Besides, women on the shelf are invulnerable to scandals and gossips.)
When this book isn’t all about Penelope shattering or screaming – good lord, Ms Laurens, learn some alternative words to “screaming” and “shattering”, please – under the masculine ministrations of Charles, the author has those two methodically interrogating suspects or following trails. That spy subplot is as fun to read as following an accountant’s progress as he sifts through books after books of financial records. As for the sex, things become really tedious after a while it’s basically the same position and same damn kinetics, only with different words used to mean the same thing.
Charles is indistinguishable from the other heroes of this author. Penelope tends to be a little more forceful than the typical heroine of this author in the sense that she doesn’t let Charles steamroll over her occasionally but she thinks, behaves, and holds the same bizarre notions of love versus sex like the so many heroines of this author.
With every book she puts out to the market, Ms Laurens seems to be trying to introduce some variety in her stories by making her external conflicts more complicated. Unfortunately, complicated in this case doesn’t mean robust or suspenseful, nor is it creating the variation needed to keep things fresh in the series. Maybe things will be better if she varies her characters and their relationship dynamics instead of reprising the same thing again and again in her books. Just a suggestion, really.