by Julia London, historical (2012)
Pocket, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4391-7547-7
The Seduction Of Lady X is the third book in Julia London's series The Secrets Of Hadley Green but it is a very loosely related sequel. The only link this book has to the previous two books is that the main characters of previous books show up. The jewels and all those secrets are shoved to the background. Of course, this makes it easier for me to review this book, as I don't have to rehash the convoluted story arc in those two books. But readers expecting this book to be some kind of grand finale are going to have to adjust their expectations considerably.
Oh, and I am going to drop huge spoilers in this review. Sorry, I have to do it if I have to explain why this book doesn't work for me. This is one of those books that are so fundamentally flawed that merely hinting at things in the plot just won't do.
Anyway, the plot first. It's pretty straightforward. Lady Olivia Carey married her husband Edward, thanks to an advantageous arrangement by their parents. Unfortunately for her, Edward is a cheating bastard who gets really mean when he's drunk, which is often. He even beats her and rapes her in this story. Readers looking for valiant heroines will be cheered to know that Olivia take everything in stride because she's striving to make heroines in those romance novels by Mary Balogh look like rebellious hellions in comparison. Olivia's only solace in life is her friendship with the steward Harrison Tolly. They both want more than friendship, of course, but Olivia for some reason will not cheat on her husband and Harrison is too polite to impose. Things get kicked up a notch when Alexa, Olivia's younger sister, comes home from Europe bearing great tidings: she's pregnant and the father of the baby is nowhere to be found. Edward relishes the idea of banishing Alexa forever into some nunnery because he is such a mustache-twirling villain like that, so Harrison steps up to offer to marry Alexa. Oh, what a mess.
This one certainly promises plenty of drama, but what it delivers instead is plenty of bewildering motivations from the characters. Okay, so Edward is just cruel and nasty for the sake of being a villain, but why is Olivia so keen on playing the long-suffering doormat? She keeps saying that women like her are helpless, but come on, the degree to which she allows herself to endure her husband's abuse is pretty ridiculous. At least, she should have just had an affair with Harrison, since it's not like Edward is staying faithful while he's beating and raping her during his moods. And why is Harrison so selfless? Yes, he loves Olivia, but... why? The only explanation I can think of is that he has some kind of fetish for helpless women needing protection. Oh, and Harrison inherits the title of Earl of Ashwood and everything that comes with it. Sure, he's still outranked by Edward, but come on, he could use all the leverage he can get... but he insists on wanting nothing to do with the inheritance. Alexa, who initially whined that she would be marrying some nobody, eventually knows that her husband-to-be will be an Earl, but is she happy? No, she now wants to marry for love or nobody at all. What is wrong with these people?
The main characters seem to be programmed to behave like martyrs of the worst kind without plausible motivation, and their behaviors become even more stupid when Edward conveniently dies later in the story. Perhaps it is not so surprising that Alexa turns out to be the only halfway sane character, and even then, it takes a while for her to get there. Early in the story, she is an irritating imbecile, whining that she only wants to marry for love and generally behaving like a typical romance heroine that deserves to be smothered to death with a pillow. Fortunately, she mellows and grows up as the story progresses, although her character is compromised considerably by the author deliberately solving the issue of the illegitimate brat by having the whole drama turn out to be a big misunderstanding on Alexa's part.
That the author resorts to convenient plot devices to solve her characters' problems is easily the worst flaw of this book. After all that drama about how Edward is the biggest obstacle to everyone's happiness, Edward dies abruptly. Offstage! When things seem bleak and there is no hope to be found, characters from previous book show up like freaking statues of liberty to offer a guiding hand. Worst of all is how all this "marry your sister while wanting to sleep with you" drama turns out to be due to a very stupid big misunderstanding on Alexa's part. Yes, the father of her baby also conveniently shows up in the end to solve that problem of hers. The author sets up a pretty complicated stage for her characters, and for a while, teases me with plenty of angst and emotional turmoil, only to start introducing convenient plot developments that come out of nowhere to solve everyone's problems! Deus-ass ex machina of the worst kind is everywhere here, and I feel very, very cheated.
The Seduction Of Lady X has all the groundwork for a complex and rich emotionally-charged love story, but the author doesn't seem to know what to do with her characters or their story. What results is a most unsatisfying story of stupid people who are saved from their by predicaments by lucky turns of event. Bah.
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