Bantam, $5.99, ISBN 0-553-57774-3
Historical Romance, 1999
Jane Ashford is an author I keep buying out of habit. Sometimes it puzzles me why I keep buying her books – after her spectacular long historical debut The Marriage Wager, she’s on an unfortunate downhill slide in my opinion. This book is an improvement after Charmed and Dangerous, but it reprises an automaton for a hero. Only this automaton has a temper with a capital T.
Free-spirited Emily Crane (that’s how the back blurb describes her) is an unhappy woman. Her parents are artists who were the Scandal of the Ton in their younger days when Mommy, a nobleman’s daughter, was caught posing nude in Papa’s studio. Now Mommy and Papa are living bohemian-style in the country, painting, quarreling and making up spectacularly, and entertaining all types of guests from lowlifes to priests. And Emily, the boring spoilsport she is, wants a normal life.
One day she rescues Lord Richard Sheldon – let’s call him Oscar the Grouch – from being drowned by villains. He thanks her, and they feel this knock-my-feet-over-my-head attraction between them. Nothing happens, however, for he leaves for his home soon after.
Oscar the Grouch is a nobleman who has just returned after being stranded in the West Indies and presumed dead for years. He was once a cruelly insensitive, lazy, spendthrift rake. Now the wilds have changed him into a cruelly insensitive, impatient, and totally unlikable boor with a big stick up his… er, pants. He believes Emily to be a refreshingly intelligent woman compared to the ninnies of the Ton. When Emily gets to stay with her Aunt in London and stupidly follows the shallow ways of the Ton in order to be normal, Oscar thinks he has misjudged her all along, and cuts her off rudely. A Grouch has no use for ninnies after all. Emily is hurt and, like a puppy nonetheless, trails after him for more cutting remarks interspersed with hot kisses. Fortunately, someone is trying to murder Oscar, so we get some excitement to move the story along.
I don’t like Oscar. I don’t have patience for ninnies myself, but his boorish rudeness gets on my nerves after a while. There is no reason to be so sarcastic and nasty to a woman a decade younger than he, is there? He keeps loathing the man he was, and wanting to change for the better. That is good, if being Unga the Bonga Caveman who could barely say anything without gritting his teeth is considered good.
Which is why I’m puzzled why Emily kept insisting this man is different, refreshingly brilliant and noble. This is a man who insolently dismisses her suspicion that someone is deliberately causing the accidents throughout the book. Worse, Oscar knows someone is trying to hurt him. But when Emily asks for his conformation of her suspicions, he cuts her off. Why? Very puzzling, especially most of the times, in his private thoughts, Oscar is admiring Emily’s brain (among other things). Confusing characterization here if you ask me.
The writing is clean and very readable, it’s only that the plot is a bit of a mess and the characterization doesn’t help. I don’t like Oscar. I don’t like the fact that Emily never appreciate what fun her family is, and is especially embarrassed by they (young woman, tell me how it’s like after 10 years living normal). As a result, I don’t appreciate the romance in this book. I can’t feel any chemistry between these two, especially after so many kisses that end with Oscar pushing her away and snarling because he has lost control. What a charmer.
I really hope Miss Ashford will write a book as good as The Marriage Wager. At the end of the day, when there’s nothing to do but read, is it too much to ask for happy stories with happy people?