Sourcebooks Casablanca, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-4022-5828-2
Historical Romance, 2013
No, I know what you are thinking, but no, A Lady’s Secret Weapon is not referring to… that. The hero has a big secret weapon, though, as he brags that he’s a master at seducing women to draw out important information from them. Don’t judge Ethan deBeau, people – at least he’s using his romance novel male privilege to whore without limit or accountability for the sake of the glorious motherland. Should he die of syphilis, at least he can die knowing that King George III appreciates the valiant sacrifice he has made for the country.
Of course, this is a romance novel, so the hero is immune from sexually transmitted diseases. His investigation into an orphanage puts him in the path of Sydney Hunt, who is also on her own mission – hers is to save the kids, because what else would a woman care about in a romance novel? – and it’s full mast lust at first sight. There’s also a French spy determined to hand over England to the French, matchmaking or cheerleading sequel baits from both the hero’s and the heroine’s sides, and plenty of subplots, along with each and every guy who wants me to buy their books bad. The whole thing resembles a loud and busy party where I just happen to the poor guest who has no affiliation with the rest of the guests.
A Lady’s Secret Weapon sees the author throwing every ingredient into the plot. Each ingredient isn’t so bad on its own – at least, it does show me that the author is aware of what sells in her genre. All the guys are built like superhero spies in a unique club, their titles are like codenames rather than anything that comes with actual responsibilities. The double standards are here too – heroes with pee-pees for everyone, but none but her true love’s purple-tipped bread stick can touch the heroine’s honeypot. The secondary characters wave pom-poms or drop hints that the hero and the heroine are gagging for it right on target. There is nothing too unpredictable here, and what is here is basically okay. I mean, these elements by themselves won’t cause aneurysm or anything like that.
But mix them all together and then add in some more, like the author did, and the whole thing becomes an overcooked muddle. Nothing feels fully developed; everything is just trotted out like it’s a parade of the romance tropes. Here they are, there they go, now let’s wait for the next one, that kind of thing. For a long time, every chapter introduces two or three new characters, to the point that I can’t help feeling that half of England must be crammed up like sardines in this story.
I also can’t take the hero seriously. Tracey Devlyn wants to turn Ethan into a Cynster-like alpha male, I’m certain, but the guy just smirks or leers at the heroine way too often to the point that he’s like a caricature of the horny jock from hell. It’s actually quite remarkable how he can twist every scene with the heroine into a hovering of the creep moment, as he tells her how he’d seduce her, conquer her, or something. He gets better when he starts behaving a little less like Pepé Le Pew overdosed on too many testosterone pills and more like a stock spy hero in a historical romance, but by then the damage is done. I can’t take this guy seriously, he’s too absurd in how fixated he is on sexually harassing the heroine that he can switch out everything else in a particular moment. Then again, I guess I should have known from his name, shudder.
A Lady’s Secret Weapon is an overdone meal of a read. It’s edible, so to speak, but the flavors never blend together well enough to make a memorable feast.