Avon, $6.99, ISBN 0-380-81202-9
Historical Romance, 2001
I must say one thing about Stephanie “Still Boring” Laurens: she is a brilliant craftmaster. Avon is obviously marketing her as the new Johanna Lindsey and the Cynster the new Mallorys, and she is working hard to live up to the title. Ms Lindsey must be somewhere in Hawaii burning copies of Ms Laurens’s books as she screams, “I am still the #1 Bestselling Author, I bloody well am!”
Anyway, let’s talk about passion. All about Passion. Yes, she’s still repeating the “Yes, no” thing. No, it’s not a stupid plot device here – heroine Francesca Rawlings has a bloody good reason to say no to her husband Gyles Rawlings (I love consanguinity, don’t you?), the Earl of Chillingworth. Get it? Chillingworth. Brrr. You can’t get any more subtle than that.
The story, however, is so ineptly plotted that it’s like watching an amateur puppet show where I can see Ms Laurens pulling the strings. Picture this implausible scenario: Gyles walk in, signs a marriage contract with Francesca’s guardian without even asking for a portrait or whatever they have as photographs of that time, mistakes the weaker cousin Frannie as his bride, and tries to make the real Francesca “He calls me Gypsy until the reader screams ‘Enough, I get it – she’s half Gypsy!'” Rawlings his mistress. How the author continues to keep up Gyles’s mistake is so transparently bad and obvious that my eyeballs are in danger of being permanently stuck to the roof of my eyeball socket cavities. Then, after three days, the truth falls.
“Bastard!” Francesca screams.
Lots of hot sex – we can this “emotional confrontation and relationship dynamics” in Mediocrity Metropolis – and more hot sex. I get hot too, with annoyance, when it becomes obvious that hot sex is a substitute for emotional development.
By the way, Chillingworth crosses my threshold of tolerance more than once with his really psychotic controlling of his new wife. He’s like his secret boyfriend Devil that way – keep your wife stupid, stuffed with (honorary) Cynster meat, and yeah, it’s a happy marriage. At the same time I’m told that Francesca is a strong, independent woman. Hah! She can’t even decently finish without pausing to spread her thighs that discussion about her husband trying to get a mistress even as he marries her. Then again, does it matter?
Did I mention the Nasty Other Woman subplot?
The author redeems Chillingworth in a hodge-podge, clumsy babble of pagan/BDSM imageries. Words like fate, dominating, submissive, taming, and capture abounds like a bad first draft of BDSM for Real Dummies. Chillingworth wants to get a mistress even as he marries? Come on, it’s no big deal because (a) it’s the same woman he wants, after all – serendipity is fait accompli, people! – and (b) he’s trapped by love, it’s his fate. Uxoria comes like that – wham!