Leisure, $5.99, ISBN 0-8439-5146-X
Historical Romance, 2003
I find A Treasure to Hold an interesting romance. The story itself isn’t too impressive, but I’m impressed by the fact that the author tries to introduce character development and make her characters address difficult issues in their relationship. Kathleen McCarthy doesn’t particularly succeed, but the fact that she tries makes this book more memorable than many of the formulaic romance novels I’ve been reading lately.
The heroine Isabelle Saint-Simon starts out acting just like, to me, a noblewoman would. That means, she tends to see herself as a separate class from the working class. No sharing the meals with the friendly maid here. Unfortunately, she’s no smarter than the average 21st century overearnest armchair activist masquerading as a historical heroine. When a letter arrives from her stepbrother Reynaud Andrassy telling her that he is in dire trouble and he needs her help ASAP, she dashes straight to Paris to find him. Only to meet Sebastion Merrick, who is also looking for Reynaud. Reynaud, you see, has been a bad boy. He has not only run up huge debts, he has also murdered Sebastion’s cousin. Or so our hero believes. Isabelle knows this cannot be. Her stepbrother is innocent! Why? Because she says so! Romance heroines are cute this way: they always mistake viscera for intellect.
I don’t want to go into too many of the stupid things like Isabelle do in this story. Like going to meet a man whom Sebastion has warned her against – alone, unarmed – because she wants to make this evil man “understand” and let Raynaud off the hook. You can guess what happens next or the extent of the mess the hero has to wade through just to save her. When she has to lie to save herself, she does it ineptly. Frankly, Isabelle is a liability to Sebastion. Our hero is a more tolerable character because at least he isn’t a walking bumbling nitwit like Isabelle.
The romance starts out in a contrived “He’s hot, she’s hot, they hate each other, but they want to jump each other’s bones” manner, the author at least tries to introduce character growth in Isabelle and some complexity in Sebastion’s otherwise tepid characterization. Isabelle grows a spine in the end and experiences some degrees of epiphany to make her smarter than the roadkill she was earlier, while he becomes aware of the fact that Reynaud will be the biggest stumbling block in their happily ever after. Then, instead of having the characters address these issues, the author cops out and introduces a closure that sweeps all their problems under the carpet. Isabelle never has to confront the dilemma of her affections for Reynaud versus her lust of Sebastion and our hero never has to work to show her that she made the correct decision.
But hey, at least Ms McCarthy tried. That’s something. A Treasure to Hold is a somewhat formulaic, a little bit different romance story that tries to be more than just another book on the shelf. Unpolished that it may be, who knows? Maybe in time, the author will develop enough to tackle some meatier substance in her books.