by Grace Burrowes, historical (2011)
Sourcebooks Casablanca, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-4022-4567-1
The Soldier follows Grace Burrowes's wildly acclaimed debut effort, and just like it is with The Heir, I think someone must have slipped me an alternate universe version of this book. Because I just don't get the hype, I really don't. What is interesting about The Soldier is how it is essentially a more polished version of The Heir. The plot has some cosmetic changes, but the nature of the plot as well as the structure of the story, along with the characters, are pretty much a retread of The Heir. Perhaps the author is hoping to emulate Stephanie Laurens, whom we all know has done nothing but writing the same book over and over for lots and lots of money.
Devlin St Just, the new Earl of Rosecroft, visits his new holdings only to learn of the existence of his late father's illegitimate daughter Winnie. Winnie has run wild, and St Just can't help thinking that he ought to take her in and housetrain her. But not if our heroine Emmaline Farnum has anything to say about it. She has taken the young girl in - not that she's doing it well, as St Just can tell from just how wild Winnie has become - and she insists on being allowed to continue to be close to Winnie. St Just doesn't see the problem in that, so the story begins.
This is a "Just the two of us, in a big country house" story, just like The Heir. Like the hero of that book, St Just is a reasonable fellow. He is a former soldier, so he is pretty much what you expect him to be. He's not going to be an unfamiliar character, but he's reliable, kind, and likable. Therefore, if he has his way, there won't be any conflict in this story at all. So this means the conflict has to come from Emmie, and, therefore, just like it is with The Heir, the heroine in this one goes to great extents of stupidity to ensure that there is no end to the torture of having to follow her antics.
First, she won't let St Just touch any part of her because she doesn't want to be a whore. But when she decides that she likes him, she spreads so fast and easily that it is indeed hard to believe that she is not butter. Initially, she insists that she is the best guardian for Emmie despite the fact that she has a dodgy past while he has money and the ability to give Emmie a good life. But when she has spread for St Just and he wants to marry her, she predictably pulls the Avon Romantic Boyfriend Test and flees - abandoning the young lady she has declared to adore early on. There seems to be no limit to Emmie's selfishness when she decides that she will be a martyr to love. She can't see the obvious and she loves to imagine that people think the worst of her, so she's not going to be reasonable. St Just, the more damaged character of the two, ends up having to be patient and chase her around as if Emmie is the little girl here, not Winnie. Another annoying thing about Emmie is how she keeps weeping and crying at the drop of the hat, as if she isn't irritating enough as the demented martyr twit from hell.
Speaking of Winnie, she is creepy. The author has her executing matchmaking scenarios and doing things to throw Emmie and St Just together, and once that is done, Winnie then becomes the plot device for some of the most maudlin and cringe-inducing sentimental scenes in this story.
St Just and the sequel bait guys are easily the best things about this story because they come off as wonderfully sane and likable. It's really too bad that the rest of the story is divided into irritating bouts of stupidity, thanks to Emmie, and embarrassingly saccaharine-sweet moments of maudlin tears, courtesy of Winnie. The Soldier is a slightly better book than The Heir, if only because it isn't so hilariously anachronistic, but the problems that plague that previous book are still present in this one. I have this feeling that if you love the previous book, you will love this one. They are, after all, from a fundamental point of view, pretty much the same book.
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