by Kat Martin, historical (2001)
St Martin's Press, $6.99, ISBN 0-312-97944-4

How's this for an intriguing premise? 14-year old Ariel Summers offers herself to the Earl of Grenville in return for an education. Ariel, a tenant farmer's daughter, knows that her beauty is her only way out of her poverty, and hence the deal. The Earl decides to wait until Ariel is 18, and then croaks, leaving his bastard (and now legitimized) son Justin to deal with her.

(Don't ask if the author's legitimizing Justin is accurate or not according to the 1804 setting. I don't know, and frankly, I have enough other things to be irritated about in this story.)

The story sounds like a great change from the usual stuff. I have to read this. Bad mistake.

I get uneasy when the author tries to pass off Earl of Grenville Elder, a pig with a taste for prepubsecent girls, as a benevolent matchmaker. You don't redeem a pig like that. Frankly, I doubt one can ever redeem such a pig in a romance. Oh well, he's dead on Chapter Two, so let him burn in hell. On to Grenville Junior.

The author has fun creating all sorts of fun misunderstandings. Justin sees Ariel with another guy and - oho! She's a slut! Pig! Pig! He manhandles her, insults her, and she gets the starry-eyed gaze that is supposed to be infatuation. More like zombiefied petrification if you ask me. The rest of the story has Justin insisting that Ariel is a slut, gets suspicious and bad tempered whenever any guy sniffs around her, and generally behaves like a monster. He only sees remorse when he realizes that Ariel is a virgin. Isn't it nice to read about how much a heroine is good for - her hymen? Good thing Ariel didn't go horseriding or something. I hate to see what happens when her hymen gets torn that way.

And Ariel completely becomes a moron after her initial bargain with Grenville Elder. She can't! She won't! Boo-hoo! Woo-hoo! And no matter how much Justin insults and manhandles her, she trusts him! The Other Man here tells her that Justin is using her. Even though she is not given any signs to believe so, she insists that this Other Man, who is nice and kind to her, is wrong. Justin loves her - she trusts him!

A good romance that has such a bastard hero requires a good grovel to work. Indeed, the author almost succeeds, having Justin openly remorseful to his best buddy. But, of course he can't tell her he is sorry. No, he will just shut up instead. Nice. Now this could work if Ariel takes him to task for his abominable treatment of her throughout the story. But does she?

She couldn't. She doesn't have a spine. "I love him! I love him so much!" is her favorite jibber, repeated again and again no matter how many times Justin places his boot on her head and pushes her face-down into the cesspool. "I love him! I love him so-ooo-ooo much!" When she finally breaks down, her grand show of defiance is to flee. Run, Ariel, run - don't let the hunting dogs run you down.

And of course, everything is the Woman's fault. In this case, Justin's evil sister. Heaven forbids a man to ever be wrong. Sleeping with 14 year-old's is okay. A man has needs. Midlife crisis, and all that rot. But a woman who dares not to be Pure and Docile - death to her!

Needless to say, stupid psychology and inept writing cause Heartless to be one for the rubbish file. It's not exactly heartless as it is brainless.

Rating: 32

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