by Lynn Kerstan, historical (2002)
Onyx, $6.50, ISBN 0-451-41057-2
When I realize that The Golden Leopard is going to be one of those dark heroes and daring adventure stories, I sit back to enjoy the ride. Alas, Lynn Kerstan's characters are painfully stock characters - the broody hero and the blandly honorable heroine - that I am sure fans of the traditional Regency subgenre will appreciate this book better. No offense to readers of that subgenre: having seen how those books tend to have the same Virtuous Ninnies and Dark Rakes Wanna Repent characters again and again, in fact I have nothing but admirations for your ability to enjoy deja vu like the sweetest of gourmet delights. I wish I have the ability myself, honestly.
Our hero, Lord Hugo Duran - hoga hoga! - starts out in the dungeons of exotic India (exotic, that is, to English dudes), where he will meet a Dire Fate if he doesn't go back to England and bring back the Golden Leopard. This is what happens when nosey Englishmen sneak into places they are not supposed to go to, I tell you. With the Shivaji assassin posing as his valet, he will have only a year to recover the important Golden Leopard.
Hoga Hoga decides instead to find his old girlie Jessica Carville who also conveniently is a master at making counterfeit antiques. Instead of saying "Hiya!" he makes demands on Jessie while leering and coming on to her like a complete boor. I think we call guys like this alpha mules.
Jessie claims to be "unconventional", ie she is as bland, honorable, and dull as the million romance heroines out there. Take a number, Jessie. She can't tell the hero to get lost, she can't tell her own father to go to hell, and she lets annoying notions like honor and guilt make her choose the most difficult choices in her decisions. In short, she is just the woman for an alpha mule to manipulate. Jo Beverley and Mary Balogh fans, take note.
Since Hoga Hoga and his girlie are tired, predictable stock types, their emotional conflicts don't really interest me much. I am much more entertained in the second half of the story, when external conflicts start coming in and turning this story into a slightly less hyperactive Super Mario Bros adventure. When those two annoying honor/guilt/virtue/shame stereotypes shut up and get moving, I have a much better time enjoying the adventure.
There is a potentially lovely scene when Hoga Hoga steals a bunch of dead, cold flowers from the church for Jessie, but it is ruined utterly by Jessie's tiresome and familiar psychobabble about her guilt/shame/whatever about their sham marriage (yes, there's one). This is just one of the many scenes in this book that fail to resonate with me. Whenever Hoga Hoga and Jessie threaten to come to life, Ms Kerstan just has to mix in fake marriages, tiresome martyr tendencies, and "female virtue" (a complete unwillingness to do anything without making an issue out of how much the heroine is doing this and that to save her fellow mankind) to render her characters once again into shades of grey.
Some romantic adventures of intrigue and danger fly high, reveling in the exuberance of danger and living and loving for today. Lynn Kerstan's The Golden Leopard tries so hard to remain safe and predictable, it never actually takes off the ground. It's a well-written Jo Beverley book, come to think of it, only with scary stereotypical Indian gurus and some athletic stuff thrown into the mix.
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