Grand Central Publishing, $5.99, ISBN 978-1-4555-1893-7
Historical Romance, 2012
Five years ago, nobody Elizabeth Poole fell in love with and ran away with a guy who turned out to be unworthy of her affections. Her brother Tom subsequently killed the man, and Lizzie knew of this only after the two of them were on their way to Australia to start life anew. They soon met Edward Smythe and his wife Victoria, and they all became close. Tom and Edward worked at the ranch together, and Ria and Lizzie discovered that they were most likely half-sisters, with Lizzie being the illegitimate daughter to a nobleman. Ria was once engaged to Eddie’s older brother, but she fell in love with Eddie and they eloped, ending up in Australia to start a new life together.
Unfortunately, Tom and Eddie soon died, and shortly after, Ria followed them. Left all alone in this world, Lizzie has only Ria’s “gift” to hold on to. You see, Ria and Lizzie looked very similar to one another, so Ria told Lizzie everything about her life in England. Before she died, Ria wanted Lizzie to assume her identity and go back to London. She wanted Lizzie, as Ria, to reconcile with Ria’s grandmother, Lady Thornborough, and make peace with those Ria had hurt with her decampment to Eddie. In return, Lizzie has Ria’s blessings to assume Ria’s old life and enjoy everything Lizzie never could as a nobody with not a drop of noble blood in her. Lizzie is a good actress, and she has nowhere to go. All could have gone well were not for Geoffrey Somerville, Eddie’s younger brother and the sole surviving Somerville brother. A clergyman who finds himself a Lord after the deaths of his brothers, Geoffrey may not know Ria personally back in those days, but no matter. He isn’t anywhere as forgiving as Lady Thornborough. Naturally, he’s the hero of this story.
Do stop if you are already rubbing your hands eagerly while thinking. “Ooh, is this like the movie While You Were Sleeping, only with a hot priest dude?” Despite its interesting plot, this is not a comedy. It is actually a Christian romance in disguise. Now, I have nothing against Christianity. The hymns and carols are lovely to listen to, and some of the priests are hot to look at. However, the hero embodies everything that makes me shy away from Christian romances: relentless judgmental attitude, holier-than-thou self righteousness, and sanctimonious joylessness all wrapped up in a hypocritical bundle of burning desire – Geoffrey is the Claude Frollo to Lizzie’s Esmeralda, although this story has a happy ending, naturally, with this Frollo finding his Esmeralda worthy of receiving his righteous staff of piety and bearing his seed.
How could I resist his romantic blandishments?
Despite her occasional missteps, he found his esteem for her was growing.
Oh yes, it’s obvious how much growing his esteem is doing in his pants.
It was true that at times – usually when she was in the company of others – he’d seen a certain shallowness manifest itself.
And yet his esteem bulges out like an angry archbishop who discovered that someone had signed him up for Grindr.
Would Ria revert to her old ways now that she was back in London? Would she prefer to spend her time with men like James?
This is what passes for Geoffrey’s mental conflict for the almost entire story. It is one thing if he starts out a judgmental prude only to thaw in the end. But no, this Geoffrey lusts after Lizzie while constantly looking for excuses to think the worst of her morals. I’m sure you can guess what happens when Lizzie’s secret comes out late in the story. I’d give you a clue: he’s not even going to try to be a little sympathetic. For a man of the cloth, he is simply horrible in doling out forgiveness and understanding. His mental writhing when it comes to Lizzie is one of a man who’d be happy to lock up the wife permanently in a basement so that she would only receive his righteous presence into her hoochie and none of the corrupting influences of other evil people.
He is also impressively self absorbed. I especially love how he says that “Ria’s” grief at losing Eddie is probably comparable to his own grief at losing Eddie. That makes sense. A widow, now all alone in the world, losing her husband and making her own way back to London, all the while delirious from grief and fever… maybe if she atones long enough, she’d understand his pain.
Of course, in the end he tells Lizzie that he has been a horrible person, blah blah blah, but this is one instance where I seriously doubt the leopard can change its spots overnight. For over 350 pages, I see him judging everyone and everything, even those close to him, and finding them all lacking according to his impossibly high standards. He has no sense of humor, he is a self righteous pig, and I find him as romantic as herpes.
Even if I overlook the hero – and why should I, since this is a romance novel? – the rest of the story never delivers what the premise promises. The story spends most of its sagging middle meandering around like a sedated confused turtle. Lizzie keeps finding herself in situations where she may be exposed, she feels the same emotions over and over, and Geoffrey peers down at her and everyone else from his pulpit at the top of Mount Asshole and finds them all wanting even as his esteem for Lizzie threatens to burst out of the crotch of his embroidered hair suit.
And because this is the first book in a series, everyone who is dead turns out to be not that dead – this isn’t a spoiler, as anyone who counts the number of obvious sequel baits present here would immediately realize two out of three does not a trilogy make, so someone has to come back from the dead – while the villain is a cartoon character, evil beyond belief, existing only to ensure that Lizzie has no choice but to end up with Geoffrey as there is no one else better for her.
So, if you like your heroes to constantly act like his poo doesn’t smell even a little, in a story where the main conflict is basically whether you meet the other person’s high standards when it comes to morals, you may love An Heiress at Heart – seriously, what the hell does that title even mean? – more than me. But let’s just keep things simple. If you don’t like Christian romances, stay away from this one. There are many romance novels with heroes that won’t cut you down like you aren’t worthy to even wipe their rear ends the moment you stop meeting their expectations.