Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-204983-4
Historical Romance, 2011
Spindle Cove. It’s a charming corner in Essex that has become the neighborhood for women who do not fit in with conventional society for whatever reason. We have spinsters, widows, wives separated from their husbands, bluestockings, and even randy young women banished here by their parents as an attempt to end their ill-advised infatuation with unsuitable men. Running the show is Susanna Finch, who believes that such women need a place where they can feel safe. However, when the story opens, the idyllic peace is interrupted by the arrival of Victor Bramwell, a Lieutenant Colonel with the Navy who is determined to show his bosses that his wounded knee should not be a reason for permanent shore leave. He is here with his men to liaise with Susanna’s father and form a militia of 24 men in a month’s time. Bringing with him guns, gruffness, and a staunchly rigid view of masculinity, Bram is going to turn Spindle Cove topsy-turvy, much to Susanna’s dismay. But he’s hot, she’s hot, so it’s not like they can’t get along. Right?
A Night to Surrender is an interesting example of a historical romance that is written with a modern sensibility, with messages aimed at a twenty-first century audience. After all, in the end everyone in Spindle Cove is happier when both men and women can finally co-exist in harmony. The thing is, in the early 19th century, it’s not like women have many rights and places to go when they need a safe haven. So, I’m still not sure why the concept of Spindle Cove needs to be “corrected” by an influx of gun-totting pro-military dudes. No metrosexuals, please – guys wearing pink and pacifist dudes are deemed somehow “wrong” by braw lads like Bram. This whole thing feels like Ms Dare’s rallying cry for women to be comfortable around those guys and reject the pansies that are the metrosexuals of today.
Still, if that is what Ms Dare wants to tell me, I’m fine with it. After all, I don’t see the problem with being surrounded by manly, virile, and hirsute guys who embrace the machismo of the gung-ho male now and then. But she could do better than to use Bram as an example of that kind of men. Bram is supposed to be a disciplined soldier, but in this story, he has completely no discipline where the little thing in his pants is concerned. Whenever he feels his little pee-pee stirring in his pants, he will reach out to kiss and paw Susanna. Susanna likes it, of course, as this is a romance novel rather than a tale of a woman stalked by a creep, but I don’t know. I prefer some degree of unresolved sexual tension, which makes a romance novel more fun. Here, there is no sexual tension. Every time there is tension, he reaches out and touches her inappropriately. For a guy in the 19th century, Bram should respect a woman’s boundaries a bit more, shouldn’t he?
In this story, Bram and Susanna go at it, alternating between him pawing her and arguing with her, but for a long time, I’m indifferent to the whole thing. This is mostly because I’ve never warmed up to Bram’s randy octopus act and Susanna is a predictable selfless caregiver-type who runs around trying to please her self-absorbed father and everyone else. There is no simmering sexual tension because Bram doesn’t show any self-restraint: he wants, he reaches out and fondles. The story escalates more and more into farce as Susanna dresses up as a man to join the militia – in full view of everyone else – just to stop Bram from taking in some young boys into his militia.
It is only late in the story that things become interesting. Susanna and Bram are both flawed characters. He is so rigid and overly confident that he believes that only his way is the way to be, while she is really spreading herself thin trying to make everyone happy and keep the status quo in Spindle Cove. What is interesting here is that, despite the fact that Bram is running the fondle marathon and Susanna is made to just go along with it, the two of them are otherwise on a playing field. They are both crazy about each other, and indeed, there are rather poignant epiphanies and declarations of love later in this story. Ms Dare also puts them through the emotional grinder later on, as Bram’s plans fall apart around him and Susanna realizes just how much her father has taken her for granted. However, these emotional moments are weakened considerably by the fact that other secondary characters become collateral damage just to make these characters see sense. Also, while Bram learns that he is a proud fool, Susanna ends up being loved for her pathetic doormat act. Even when she realizes what a useless turd her father really is, she immediately stays determined to keep loving and caring for him. No remorse, no burning anger even on behalf the kid who nearly died as a result of her father’s folly, nothing – not a single believable human emotion. It is Bram who feels outraged on her behalf, because heaven knows, we can only let a saint wear the glass slippers of a romance novel heroine.
Ultimately, I’m confused by A Night to Surrender. It has some elements of a good story, but it gives off so many mixed signals and conflicting messages. You shouldn’t be a doormat who let people take you for granted, but you will be loved for your selflessness. You shouldn’t be a proud fool whose foolishness nearly cost a young kid his life, but your daughter will keep loving you and she’s a better person for doing so. You also shouldn’t be a rigid twit with narrow views about things, but your presence makes a woman happy. It is fine to reach out and fondle a woman’s breasts in the 19th century if you are feeling horny, because if you do it masterfully, she will quiver with desire, but at the same time, true happiness can only be attained when a woman and a man respect each other and live in a state of balanced harmony. What the heck is going on here?