Berkley Sensation, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-24491-3
Historical Romance, 2011
An Unexpected Gentleman is a heartbreaking read, because it has all the groundwork for a romance novel that is just my type. In theory – in theory – this is a story where the main characters would have to work out their emotions to get a happily ever after. However, the end result is a bit of a muddled mess, with too many unnecessary big dramatic action moments tossed in when what the characters really need is a simple moment, a quiet one, to figure out what they want for themselves.
Adelaide Ward is prepared to be a martyr. She will marry the baron Sir Robert Maxwell and extricate her family out of the financial mess her brother had left them in. Not that the man appreciates it, of course, but don’t mind Adelaide – when the villain correctly points out that she’s only enabling her brother, she’s basically NO YOU ARE WRONG, HOW DARE YOU, I WILL HATE YOU… QUIETLY, OF COURSE. However, when she meets Connor Brice, who charms her into some unwise moments of tipsiness and such, she has no clue that he would soon compromise her. He’s doing all this because he’s Robert’s half-brother and he hates that man. Oh, and it’s also an act of kindness on his part, because he knows that his lying wang will be a worthier deflowerer of Adelaide compared to Robert’s equally lying wang. I wish I’m joking.
To be fair to Connor, he intends to go through the marriage. Okay, he does so while sneering and mocking Adelaide every time she tries to stand up to him – and really, the author actually uses the word “sneer” with Connor – but I suppose he’s alright. He ruins the heroine’s chance of happiness and security without any thought of what will happen to her – he tells her that he never intended for her to be humiliated, maybe because on six days of the week, the world applauds when a girl gets compromised in 19th century England, and poor Adelaide just happens to be compromised on that one wrong day – but still, he gives the heroine some orgasms so… hero of the year?
Look, I have no issues with lying, cheating wang-faced assholes if they get what is coming to them by the time the story ends. But here, Adelaide’s motivations don’t make sense to me, and hence, the rest of the story never recovers. Let me explain.
It all begins when Adelaide is compromised. Luckily for her, Connor and Robert both want to marry her, and they are equally open about telling her how they have lied to and used her because she’s such a gullible mongoose like that. Adelaide gets angry, and she is determined to make Connor pay. Really, she says that. And so she marries him, which is exactly what he wanted anyway. That will show him! And why would she marry him? If she wants to extricate her brother from the shadow of debtor’s jail, marrying a baron who has money makes more sense.
And yet, Adelaide insists that she must marry Connor. Why? She doesn’t love any of the two men, so this is not some case of a typical heroine who’d rather sit on a spike than to marry a man who doesn’t say the L word. I’m supposed to buy that she suddenly turns away from wanting to be a martyr – something she is determined to commit to the bitter end – just because Robert lied to her? And if that’s the case, why then marry a man who not only lied to her, like Robert, but worse – a man who actively ruined her chance at securing a more stable life for her family because he has a hard-on for revenge and he thinks “stealing my bro’s woman” is a great way to get that revenge plan in action? How does that make sense? I don’t get it, and as a result, nothing Adelaide does since then makes sense as well.
More perplexingly, once she’s committed to marrying Connor, all of a sudden powerful friends come out of the woodworks to tell Connor that he’d be really sorry if he hurts Adelaide. So, where were these people again when she’s determined to sacrifice herself to the altar with Robert? Can’t they give her a loan or something if they are so concerned about her happiness?
Anyway, no matter. I turn the pages, waiting for Adelaide to exact her pound of flesh like she said earlier that she would. Well, no chance of that happening here. She is always making excuses for Connor. He’s so nice to kids, so he must be a good man! So yes, despite what she says or feels, she’s still a martyr in the sense that she believes a man is good because of how he treats other people. How about his treatment of her? It doesn’t seem to matter to her, that, as long as he’s out there wiping kids’ tears and what not, and I feel sad for Adelaide as a result. You can take the heroine out of a situation, but I suppose you can never scrub the martyrdom off her. Let me put it this way, Adelaide needs to be savaged to near death towards the end for him to tell her that he loves her. If she wants him to remember their future anniversaries, she probably needs to contract a terminal disease.
I get it. Connor is hurt, and he needs healing sex from a patient, loving woman who doesn’t care that he bruises her carelessly all the time. But this is not a story for that particular angle. This is supposed to be a story where two strangers work out their feelings for one another, not a lop-sided tale of an understanding woman and her woobie-healing love for broken mutts. It can’t be such a lop-sided tale because the hero did the heroine wrong from the very beginning, and hence, her “understanding” makes her look like an enabler who holds little regard as to how a man needs to treat her right to earn her love. It’s hard to respect a heroine like that.
And really, these two characters need time and space to sort out their feelings, but the author turns Robert into a cartoon villain instead, coming back again and again to cause drama. As a result, there is hardly any opportunity for the those two to realistically reconcile their feelings. As I’ve said, she has to nearly die for him to open up, and that’s… unfortunate. If I have my way, I’d have Robert be a more believable antagonist and bow out early, so that there would be more opportunity for the internal conflict to develop. The best love stories are often the simple ones, and An Unexpected Gentleman is instead too cluttered with the heroine’s forced obligations, Robert’s cartoon villainy which also drives Connor’s eye-rolling cruel/dumb woobie act, and other external drama.
At any rate, the ingredients for a good romance are all here, but the author chooses to go down a route that is just unfortunate for all parties involved.