by Gayle Wilson, historical (2001)
Harlequin Historical, $4.99, ISBN 0-373-29152-3
Is it me or the rather boyish, anemic-looking young man at the cover is rather happy to see me? Just what I need to make my day, really. Gayle Wilson's second instalment in her The Sinclair Brides series, Anne's Perfect Husband (the first is the excellent My Lady's Dare) is a bit off though.
It has a wonderfully noble hero, Ian Sinclair, who walks with a limp (we all know hero's limpness is always a symptom of mental torture from oh - that horrible, horrible Napoleon war!). It also has a heroine, Anne Darlington, whose la-la-li nature of charity, maternity, and honesty ("Death before lying, death before breaking a promise to dear old ladies!") makes the whole love story more akin to a man's bonding with his cute lil' terrier pup.
Ian is walking wounded thanks to Daddy Darlington's bad, cowardly nature. Wanting nothing more than to stalk around his house in misery, he is nonetheless surprised when Bastard Daddy Darlington names him the guardian of Annie Darlington. Still, honor compels him to bring her back to London and give her a Season. But poor Ian, he never considers falling for Annie himself.
Poor, poor Ian. If I haven't been deluged by exasperated pro-Russell Crowe fan emails telling me to stop with my references to a certain Mr Phoenix, I'd say that I imagine Ian to look like him rather than the anemic fellow on the cover. (Nice to see you too, though, Mr Anemia. Now wave that thing to some other lady, will you?) Noble, kind, yet so, so miserable - come over and let this momma cheer you up. I have a weakness for these sort of heroes, dark and haunted yet never afraid to embrace love, really.
But while Ian is realistically noble, Anne Darlington is noble, noble, noble, and nothing else. Egad, it's like Merry Cardboard Sunshine has hijacked this story. Of course, she is born and bred in a boarding school, but I wish the author has taken time to tamper Anne's annoyingly naive, upbeat, and "feminine" nature with some normal human instincts. For instance, Ian frets and seethes in jealousy over her "flirtation" with a handsome rake. I can't help but to wish if Anne has at least displayed some attraction to him - after all, it is natural for heterosexual women to be sexually attracted to handsome men, right? It will make Anne more human in my eyes. But no. How could she? Anne Sunshine has her eyes fixed on Mr Sinclair. He's her champion. One look and it's la-la land for Anne Darlington. She walks around the story, clueless, stars in her eyes as she tells Ian how she loves babies and love and charity and helping old ladies across the streets and honoring vows and promises no matter what... give me a break. It is one thing to be a model of virtue, but if Ian can be noble and has flaws, why not Anne?
So the story moves down the predictable path. La la la la la, there is a castle on the clouds, Anne goes there when she sleeps... la la la la la, here in her castle on the clouds. Anne gets new dresses ("Oh, no - too expensive!"), Anne wonders why Ian turns away from her puppy adoration and loyalty ("La, la, la, la, la... castle in the cloud..."), the other man that sniffs around Anne and makes Ian jealous turns out to be... well, not a typical caricature of a bad guy º, for which I give Ms Wilson two thumbs up for. Which only makes me wonder: if this author can take time to make a secondary Other Man (admitted who never has any chances to begin with) human, why not Anne? Anne acting "spunky" in the usual Regency miss manner: it's all so predictable and it seems a waste too.
There are some moments that sing, and these are the moments when Ian broods in silent melancholy. He saves this story, really. I can only wish he has gotten a better story, one where the heroine is at least two-dimensional with some emotional baggages of her own. Not this happy, twitty, trippy, giddy Ms Anne "Charity, Maternity, and Purity" Darlington. Egad, she really reminds me of a happy, clumsy pup. Not that there's anything wrong with puppies - I love puppies - but still... well, you know what I mean, right?
º This is a revised review. The first time around, I didn't notice that the copy I read had two crucial chapters missing. These chapters reveal that (a) the Other Man is Evil, and (b) the heroine gets the just reward her naivete begets her. Do I sound cruel? Anne's sunshine behavior is always the one thing I find annoying about this novel.
Do the two chapters change my view about this story? Well, yes and no. Yes, because it is nice to see Ian performs a fine heroism. And also, Anne actually becomes human and actually shows some strength and backbone. But then again, it is very late into the story, and I could have appreciated this Human Anne as opposed to Sunshine Annie earlier in the story. And the tragedy that befalls Anne is unnecessary if she isn't such a prattly sunshine betty in the first place.
The two chapters do increase my appreciation of lovely Ian as well as my exasperation at Anne. The two effects cancel each other out, and the rating remains unchanged.
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