Pocket, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-5011-3902-4
Historical Romance, 2017
Amnesia, personality change, politics, attempted murder… Meredith Duran’s A Lady’s Code of Misconduct has no shortage of gimmicky plot twists and turns, but the whole thing doesn’t come together all that well.
First, we have Crispin Burke. At first, he tries way too hard to be an emo bad boy, to the boy that all that is missing is a swirling cape and an ability to sparkle under daylight. You know the sort – he smirks, has a rude quip for everything, acts like he’s too cool for every school, postures 24/7 while making sure that not a strand of hair is out of place, and generally shoves the fact that he thinks he’s a bad, bad boy down everyone’s throat. Of course, he has sad childhood issues that he will share with the heroine Jane Mason later, so that she will go, “Aww! He’s really not too bad, I knew it!” and then add another reason why she is unworthy of receiving the continuous affections of the blowhard emo emu.
Jane is about to be married off to some guy she doesn’t love, mostly because her guardian – her uncle – doesn’t see the point of why he has to indulge in her whims when he could be profiting off her. You see, it was his money that allowed her father to make lots of money, and he always feels that he has never received a fair share of the money that resulted from his loan. So now he wants to make up for last opportunities, and making Jane his son’s bride in order to get his hands on her money seems like a fine idea. Jane disagrees, and plots. Despite the fact that she likes to tell me that she has a brain and people shouldn’t underestimate her, she flails as a result of one failed rebellion after another, until an opportunity arises.
Crispin gets knocked in the head, hard, and in her estimation, being married to a dying man is a great idea, as it’d keep her uncle off her back and, when Crispin dies, she’d be free to do her own thing. Instead, Crispin has amnesia, and starts being a complete 180 of his old self. He’s nicer, more thoughtful… and given that she’s already horny for the bad boy, it’s a simple matter of falling in love with on top of being horny for him now. Alas, she is now trapped in her own deception – they are never married, she just tells him that they are – so she desperately keeps an accounting of all her sins, real or imagined, so that she can completely unload on everyone in the late third or so her constant protests about how she is not worthy of him due to her being imperfect, a liar, blah blah blah. Therefore, in addition to having to deal with bad guys while trying to get a Penal Law bill passed, poor Crispin also has to persuade Jane to stop being a drama queen.
There are romance novels that suffer from a sagging middle, but A Lady’s Code of Misconduct is a different kind of oddity: the middle part is fine; the beginning and the late third are the parts that are easy to put down. Before someone knocks him hard in the skull and gives him a personality transplant, Crispin is an eye-rolling “Look at me! I’m so bad! Bad! A bad boy! Really!” wannabe that feels more like a cartoon character than anything else. It’s hard to take him seriously when he just tries so hard to the point that I feel like rolling up my eyes instead of panting after a piece of him. In the later parts of the book, Jane steps up as the drama queen instead, and up to that point, her brainpower is touch and go. After all, there are times when she seems smart, just as there are times when she just acts up and tries to be clever only to fail miserably. But her drama queen antics only seal it for me: she’s a twit. And while Crispin is fortunate in that he gets better as the story progresses, poor Jane’s character gets worse instead. So once again, heroine 0, hero 1. Sigh.
To be fair, though, the author knows what she is doing and has the hero punctures all the holes, correctly too, in Jane’s arguments that she’s somehow deserving of being ditched aside and left to die. I just wish there has been a different kind of drama here, because the heroine whipping herself for all kinds of reasons – most imagined than real – as to why the hero is too good for her is so played out and boring.
The middle part, as I’ve said, is fine though. Lots of sweet moments nicely balanced with more emotional ones here to enjoy, although I do wish the author has avoided the played out “let the hero blab all about his sad past to the heroine” thing. Why not have the heroine discover that on her own instead? Then again, Jane’s very busy gazing at her navel and looking for reasons why she’s worthless in there, so maybe I can’t expect much from her.
At any rate, A Lady’s Code of Misconduct is readable but the premise deserves an execution that is a little bit more different, even risky, than the safe and even clichéd decisions made by the author here. Add in the often unnecessary, histrionic drama queen antics of both the hero and heroine at unfortunate moments, and the whole thing feels a bit too exaggerated and even gimmicky for its own good.