Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4022-8682-7
Historical Romance, 2015
With a title like An Affair Downstairs, what do you think this one is about? Given that this book is loudly and widely proclaimed as something that will make fans of Downton Abbey – the Pride and Prejudice for romance readers who find Colin Firth too old as fantasy fodder – add extra dairy into their cream tea sessions, you may go, “Ah! A love story involving the staff of a big manor, perhaps?”
Well, yes, the hero is “merely” an estate manager, but please don’t get too hopeful. Logan Winthrop is the younger son of a baron, and he deliberately opts to remove himself from the Ton due to a scandal – he plans to rejoin Society when the scandal has ebbed (is that possible?). He gets to sit with the titled people during breakfast, lunch, and tea; he also gets to join the fun parties. In other words, he’s basically another rich privileged bloke – the “working class” thing is just wallpaper. Furthermore, the heroine Lady Alice Emerson is of noble birth. So no, I have no idea what the title means – maybe it’s to be taken literally, as in there is something funny taking place in Alice’s downstairs.
Seriously, I don’t get the author. If I want to write something that would make fans of Downton Abbey swoon, the last thing I would think is, “Oh! I’ll write another story featuring the same old romance archetypes! I’ll just put them in a big house, and those people will never know the difference between this book and any random historical romance set in 19th-century England pulled from the shelf!” Then again, maybe this book sells billions of copies and makes me look like a fool – that’s why I don’t pretend to be a marketing expert.
Anyway, this story. Alice’s sister Sophia still wants to marry her off to any suitable guy, and this time, Sophia has her sights on making Lord Brumley the apple of Alice’s eye. Alas, Brumley isn’t hot, he apparently likes to read rather than to cheer the heroine on as she does stupid reckless things, and therefore, he’s boring and Alice can barely mask her disgust for that man. No, she wants to have an affair with Logan, the manly and rugged estate manager rumored to have killed someone over matters of scandalous romance and what not. Being a “mere” estate manager, Logan is in no position to moan or complain when Alice ends the affair, so she can’t wait to twerk her bony heiress derriere at Logan.
Does that sound exciting? Don’t be fooled into thinking that Alice is a sophisticated man-eater, though. I wish she is, because what Alice is here is far less palatable: she’s so childish and reckless, the kind of imbecile who thinks nothing of sneaking into a man’s room to play revenge pranks, that she’s far more prone to being taken advantage of by any less scrupulous man. Alice thinks she’s so clever and smart, and she believes that what she really wants in life is lots and lots of fun, but she’s actually just a silly child who is far less smarter than she thinks she is. It’s a good thing that Logan is too much of a whiny and self-sacrificing wet rag to take advantage of the heroine.
The thing is, Alice is written to be this charming, feisty heroine, hence my dismay at the disconnection between what that character actually is and what the author insists Alice to be. This story would be better if the author is aware of Alice’s faults and lets that heroine grow up as part of the character arc, but unfortunately, this is not meant to be. This is a “Hee-hee-hee! I’m so dumb and stupid and reckless but you’re supposed to see me as adorable and love me, hee-hee-hee!” romance.
Logan, despite being far better off than many working class people in England, insists that he’s no good for Alice. To give him some credit, it takes him a long time to bite into what Alice is practically urging him to eat, but at the same time, good lord, this man is such a mope. He is a composite of all the tired old clichés associated with emo little boys playing romance heroes: self-pity, broken heart and hence an obstinate refusal to fall in love again, family issues, and more. And yet. despite the kitchen sink nature of his character, Logan is a boring lead as he’s everything I’ve come across many times before, and the author doesn’t try too hard to make him stand out even a little from all those generic emo boys out there.
An Affair Downstairs has very little interesting happening for the most part. These characters go through the motions, like a join-the-dots version of the tired old “feisty wench wants sex in the name of adventure” story line, and there isn’t anything even a little refreshing or different here. Aunt Agatha, thankfully, has a smaller role here so she’s not running around beating everyone in the head with greeting card sentiments. That is one good thing, but everything else just blends together into one blah blur. It’s too easy to put this book down, and the tacked-on instant suspense element towards the end serves more like desperate filler material than anything else. This story is more of a downstairs snore than anything else.