by Karen Robards, historical (2011)
Pocket, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4516-1168-7

Shameless is the third book in Karen Robards's trilogy about the Banning sisters, although you may not recall anything about the trilogy since the second book, Irresistible, came out in 2002. Yes, I've been online for that long, now stop snickering and focus on the review. So, back to this book, I have no expectations when I begin reading, and just by going with the flow, I find myself having a most enjoyable time following the adventures of Elizabeth Banning and Neil Severin.

Let me begin by saying that Elizabeth is spoiled, often thoughtless, and childish. Normally I would cringe at such a heroine, but these same traits also allows her to go down fighting when her back is against the wall or stand up for what she believes is right. I end up actually being very fond of her. Oh yes, the story. It all begins when Elizabeth casually breaks off her third engagement. Actually, she doesn't believe that her engagement with Lord Rosen is formal, but the gentleman in question clearly believes otherwise when she tells him that they are not getting married. Elizabeth had been leading him on, to be honest, up to the point, mostly to get back at his mother for some unkind things she said about Elizabeth. Lord Rosen decides to ruin her there and then to force her to marry him, and for his reward, she conks him hard in the head with a poker. At the same time, the man known as Neil Severin, among other names, happens to break into that room and comes upon the charming scene.

Neil is an assassin serving the country, but for some reason, he finds himself hunted by his own colleagues and marked for death when he comes back from an assignment abroad. Now he is on the run, hoping to clear his name and stay alive. As it happens, Elizabeth's brother-in-law is a high-ranking intelligence officer, and Neil intends to kill him. Oh, and this is probably where I should point out that it is best not to dwell too much on the plot because it's not exactly a work of genius. Back to the story, now that he has met Elizabeth, Neil decides to change his plans a bit. He will now use Elizabeth as bait to lure her brother-in-law into his doom! Unfortunately, someone gets to Elizabeth before he can make his move, and the next thing poor Neil knows, he is trying to save Elizabeth from an orgy in which she has been captured to be offered as one of the main meals on the menu. Even then, he is beaten to the punch: before he can act, Elizabeth rallies the other girls to stage a breakout. Determined to salvage his plans, Neil tries to keep Elizabeth alive to be used as his pawn. Of course, you know that things will never go as planned...

Characterization is not a strong point in Shameless. This one is actually a romance on the run kind of story. Our couple along with six other women (the women that escaped with them) are constantly on the run. There are cave-ins, screaming women, bullets flying everywhere, and more, with very few quiet moments. Throughout it all, Elizabeth can surprisingly catch up with Neil and help him out in sticky situations. She lies cheerfully for him, puts up a good fight when she's facing the enemy, and generally having a jolly good time, heh. I also like how, when Neil tries to tell her that he is a monster who has killed, yadda yadda yadda, she pretty much waves off his concerns while making it clear that she is getting into the relationship with her eyes wide open. There is one potential big misunderstanding scenario late in the story, but she is adorably smart enough to put things together and avoid plunging the story into a painful conflict.

Because Elizabeth and Neil work well together during their big adventure in the English wilderness, this story is fun to read. The heroine is smart, spirited, and capable enough to keep things interesting, while Neil is, of course, Neil - doing his ninja thing and cutting down everything in his way. He may be a bit too much of a superhero at times, but hey, this is a pretty campy adventure romp so I'm not expecting anything less. Things slow down considerably by the way they reach London again, and in fact, the last few chapters are not necessary in my opinion. But the slower later chapters are still a blast to read because Elizabeth doesn't let anything stand in the way of her determination of have a happily ever after with Neil. Where a lesser heroine - or a more clichéd one, at any rate - would have wept and acted like a martyr, she stands up to people who want her to break it off with Neil and even punctures Neil's delusion that he is not good enough for her. I love how she points out that all soldiers or spies serving the country have blood on their hands, so her spy brothers-in-law are in position to judge Neil.

As a romance, Shameless is on the superficial side, but as a campy and often over-the-top adventure romance, it is a most jolly entertaining romp. I guess it depends on what you are looking for here - a good romance or just a fun silly story. If it's fun and silliness you are looking for, I think this one will deliver just nicely.

Rating: 86

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