He Said No
by Patricia Waddell, historical (2004)
Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-7501-4

I have no idea what the woman in that shoulderless evening gown on the cover art has anything to do with the Regency-era historical story that is He Said No, but that dress is classy, nice, tasteful, and discreet. Which are what the story isn't, by the way. Reading this book is like opening a Donna Karan ballgown box only to find a cheap tanktop from K-Mart inside. This isn't to say that this story is bad, because sometimes a story is so bad that I cannot help but to laugh along at it every word on every page. And laughter is never a bad thing, I must say.

Norton Russell Foxball is like a giant amalgamation of every rake stereotype in existence. He's wealthy, he's infamous, and slutty mistresses throw themselves at him with the vim and vigor never seen since the last Melanie George or Nicole Jordan novel. Meanwhile, the heroine Catherine Hardwick is the amalgamation of every countrified horse-crazy hellion in existence. She knows that men cannot be trusted because two - only two - of her female acquaintances married lousy men. She is beautiful but she doesn't want any Seasons because All Men Are Not To Be Trusted. Of course, it soon becomes evident that Catherine is just being an ignorant idiot: one kiss from Norton and she decides that okay, All Men Are Not To Be Trusted but Oh My, She Can't Get Him Out Of Her Head! Sexual harrassment is so sexy! Because that's how they meet: she rides a horse at full speed but with a brain running on empty, so she somehow doesn't see him until her horse has run him under. He then proceeds to verbally harass her while stripping her with his eyes - now that is what I call a sexy hero, yummy.

The story later proceeds in blind adherence to the silly rake-and-hellion formula. She wants sex, he wants marriage, he forces her to marry her, yadda yadda yadda. He Said No is not a story as much as a bizarre strung-together paper-thin episodes of overused formulaic scenes. The characters contradict themselves sometimes within pages in a chapter. Any rhyme, reason, or coherence in this story seems to arise by chance rather than from any premeditated plotting from the author.

What makes this book so much more entertaining than a typical Melanie George or Nicole Jordan novel is that in He Said No, Ms Waddell doesn't try to justify her characters' stupidity. Where Ms George or Ms Jordan would have bombarded me with pages and pages of asinine justification where every idiotic and jerkish thing the heroes do will be conveniently blamed on evil mothers and evil ex-girlfriends, Ms Waddell just cheerfully pushes the careening train along the tracks - sometimes even dangerously close to falling off the tracks - as if she doesn't have any care in the world that her characters are acting like nitwits - just read the story already! This cheerful defiance on the author's part allows me to not take this book even a little seriously.

He Said No is a book filled with unintentionally amusing behaviors and silly conflicts with the characters going all the way when they (loudly) commit their acts of utmost silliness. Because the author doesn't actively try to manipulate me into "understanding" the characters' stupidity using tedious and amateurish psychobabbles, I am free to perceive this story as a funny tale of dingbats acting silly and oh, I have a great laugh at the characters and the story as a result. He Said No is no great work of emotional grandeur, but it ranks right there with an episode of Spongebob Squarepants: at the end of the day, it's no crime to laugh at very silly people, is it?

Rating: 72

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