Zebra, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4201-4719-3
Historical Romance, 2018
Dangerous is of course the first book in a series, one called The Outcasts. From my quick research online, this is Minerva Spencer’s debut effort, although given how these days there are authors who change pseudonym more frequently than they change their underwear, one can never be sure. Still, let’s just assume that this is the author’s first published story – and from a technical point of view, it’s quite solid. Good pacing, some strong undercurrents of melodramatic angst and violent romantic tension, and clean, confident, even polished narrative. Perhaps the author does her job too well here: the hero, Adam de Courtney, doesn’t just have a name that makes me think, “Eeuw, fanfiction!” – he also creeps me out and I don’t like him at all.
Let’s get the story out of the way first. Euphemia Marlington is finally home in England after, being abducted by corsairs when she was just a teenage girl, spending seventeen years in Baba Hassan’s harem. At thirty-two, almost thirty-three, she is certainly not going to be a diamond of first water in her first ever Season, but her father is determined to marry her off so that she will have some semblance of security in her future. With rampant speculation about what she did in those almost twenty years she was MIA, however, the acceptable gentlemen in the Ton aren’t exactly tripping over to be introduced to her. She instead finds herself the target of lechers with unsuitable propositions, desperate fortune hunters, and worse. Not that she cares about finding love with a hot guy with a big… bank account (well, that’s what she… they… all say at first anyway) – she will settle for an indifferent hubby. What she really wants is the means to go back to Oran in order to find and bring home the son she was forced to leave behind. Yes, Mia was a genuine member of a harem – sadly, she lacks the magical “I somehow managed to impress the gullible foreign dude with my storytelling and accounting skills that he left me a virgin and made me his best friend instead!” ability displayed by many other romance heroines in her situation.
At the other side of the ring is our hero Adam, the Marquess of Exley. Handsome, rich, and available – he normally will have no issues going to the Marriage Mart and asking for any one of the ladies there to be his wife, but the fact that his last two wives died under, er, mysterious circumstances makes many parents reluctant to hand over their daughters to him. The Murderous Marquess, therefore, is the perfect candidate to marry Mia in her father’s estimation. Alas for me, Adam is exactly the kind of asshole who will keep kicking people even as he scolds himself for being the asshole that kicks people just because he can. Fortunately for him, he’s so hot that Mia is gagging for it from the first time she catches a glimpse of him. He’s a rude jerk… but that only means he has this sexy commanding vibe and ooh!
That’s one of my biggest disappointments with this story, by the way – the author opts to have the heroine so bowled over by the hero’s physical appearance that Mia only puts up a weak resistance when Adam decides to use her pride and ego as his toilet. Oh, of course, he doesn’t mean it each time, he feels so bad afterwards, but he… just does it anyway because, I don’t know, plot I guess, or maybe the author is catering to readers who like their men to be bastards first and broody second. As a result, the relationship dynamics aren’t very fun to me, as I prefer stories in which both parties can give as much as they get.
This brings me to one reason why Adam gives me the creeps: he can dish, and oh, he dishes so often that being an ass seems to be an ingrained instinct for him at times, but he can’t deal when Mia dishes back. He becomes furious, with the author helpfully telling me how his nostrils flare or how his profile has Mia wondering whether he would beat her. There are times while reading this story when I wonder whether Adam has walked out from a romance novel in the 1970s. Sure, he isn’t prone to raping women every two hours in a day, but… oh, here’s a scene in which he forces his big alpha peen on the heroine because he is so jealous-angry-whatever that he needs to show her whom the boss is in their relationship. Now, this alone isn’t an issue if it were done right, as I have my share of guilty pleasures among those romance novels published in those dark days of the genre, but this kind of attitude, when packaged into Adam’s overall attitude and personality, is off-putting to me. Asshole heroes normally work for me if they don’t direct that rear end orifice to the heroine, but here, Adam bundles the wife with all the others. The author even has him telling me how much he hates the heroine for the power she has over him. Ugh, creepy.
And then there is this.
But whereas Veronica had been bent on seeking pleasure, Mia was bent on giving it. Adam could not get enough of his new wife and the feeling was mutual.
Now, it will be hypocritical of me to hammer on guys who like it when the woman goes down on him – after all, how many of us ladies will complain if the guy loves to do that? But when I consider everything else about Adam, this is just the nail on the coffin. Of course the dead wife was considered a negative, and worse, it’s negative because she liked to get pleasure, as opposed to the trained harem girl who puts the man’s pleasure over hers and that is everything a good wife is supposed to be.
As for Mia, sadly, while she starts out pretty okay – although I’m never able to reconcile her feisty nature with her harem girl past; maybe Baba Hussein was a woke pasha who organized the women’s march in his country during his free time – but as the story progresses, her IQ dips to the point that her stupidity was the catalyst for some consecutive drama late in the story. To be fair, I’d go dumb too if I have to spend so much time with a boor like Adam. Oh, and he also happens to be a deadbeat dad for the dumbest of justifications too, because I can never have too many reasons to give him the side eye.
Also, for a story with an ex-harem girl and her determination to go sailing back to the land of feisty sex-guru harem girls, Dangerous turns out to be a disappointingly ordinary story. Bulk of the story is standard beauty-and-the-boor runarounds, and even when the ships are sailing to the land of woke, I never get the thrill or excitement that will normally come with a romance novel that goes to distant lands outside of London.
Still, Dangerous is a well-executed story from a technical standpoint, so I can’t bring myself to give this one a bad score. The potential is there, and if Adam weren’t such a creep, I may even enjoy the more melodramatic emotional scenes in this one. Oh well, since the author is new, I’ll just be nice this time and let things slide. Here’s the special “new author special” three-oogie score from me.