HQN, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-373-77646-7
Historical Romance, 2012
Forever a Lady lets Matthew Milton, who first appeared in Forever and a Day, play the hero. Here, I learn that Matthew was reduced to a nobody a long time ago when his father’s bookkeeper and friend absconded with the money of their newspaper business. Financially ruined, Matthew and his father lost everything in the aftermath, and were forced to live in the slums of New York City. He eventually founded the Forty Thieves, who often take the law in their own hands (not that there is anyone else up for the job) and, in their own way, keep the slums a somewhat peaceful place.
When the story opens, Matthew and his second-in-command takes off to London to lay low from a while (things have become heated back in New York City), and it isn’t long before he gets tangled up in a passionate affair with the merry widow Bernadette Marie Burton. However, his own stupidity soon sets in motion a series of events where Bernadette becomes the target of both his enemies and her jilted suitor. What will happen next?
This one should be a book after my own heart. It has a very refreshingly unusual heroine who is determined to have fun to make up for years of catering to a much older husband, and she is the one here who does not want to have emotional entanglements. The hero, a younger man, is the more romantic one, and for a while, Matthew’s romantic ideals make a rather intriguing contrast to the more ruthless aspects of his character. These two have fun, exchange some fun banter, and… and… and then the story becomes stupid right after the first love scene about one third into the book.
And good grief, from that point onward, Forever a Lady is a complete mess. I do like the author’s bouncy prose and her way with humor, but this story is all over the place. And to explain myself better, I will have to drop a few spoilers. Hit the back button if you want to read this book in a future date and do not want to know of several crucial plot developments.
Still here? Okay, let’s proceed. What happens is this: Matthew decides to “avenge” our heroine’s honor by breaking into her ex-lover’s house and stealing this nobleman’s heirlooms. When he gets thrown into jail, our heroine is forced to ruin the last vestiges of her good name to become his alibi and spring him out. All this while, his second-in-command is the estranged son of a nobleman. If you ask me, the son of a British nobleman trumps the widow with dubious reputation when it comes to social influence. So why oh why can’t Coleman be the alibi? Oh yes, because he’s too busy being an emo emu about his father to get over himself and help his best friend. No, he has to drag the heroine to the jail and insist that she ruin her reputation, all because the hero is too stupid to think and Coleman is a selfish crybaby twat.
And this is the start of a troubling pattern to the increasingly bipolar Matthew: he claims to love the heroine very much, but often, he acts in ways that suggest, to me, that he is thinking only about himself. He wants her love, but what she feels about that is not really important to him. There are moments, especially later in the story, when he deliberately strings her on and patronizes her, for no reason other than because he can. And while I do like how he intends to become a man worthy of her before he goes ahead with their happily ever after, this initiates a silly separation that sees the hero deliberately keeping the heroine at bay in order to prove that he… I don’t know, is a real man or something, I guess. That’s the problem with Matthew: it’s almost always about proving that he is as good as, if not better than, Bernadette in terms of wealth and social status. I can only imagine how rocky things will be if, one day, he happens to be in a perceived “weaker” position than the wife. Is it really love or pride? I can’t tell with Matthew, and honestly, I don’t like him enough to even try.
There is also something not right about the author’s portrayal of Matthew. For a man of the streets, Matthew is inexplicably naïve about the way things work. For example, he never seems to consider the consequences of ruination on Bernadette’s life despite having been surrounded by broken faded whores and their miserable children during his time on the streets. He is also amusingly horrified when he discovers that the neighborhood prison regularly abuses the prisoners. He’s a man of the slums – and yet, he somehow remains oblivious to the more sordid sides of life on the streets.
Bernadette is initially an interesting heroine, but all her unique merry widow ways are actually a vehicle for her “redemption”, one in which she eventually decides that her plans to see the world and have fun are making her unhappy. She should be “taking things more seriously”. And, of course, she is punished for having a lover and enjoying an orgasm out of him when this lover turns out to be the convenient villain of the story, she nearly gets gang-raped along the way, and everything she does that is not tied to the hero turns out to be wrong. There is also a bizarre sex scene with unfortunate implications late in the story, when Bernadette decides that she should make up for her lack of virginity by letting the hero shag her in the rear end, all in the name of letting him pop her “other virginity” out of true love. It is as if a romance hero is entitled to virginity, ugh.
The plot is all over the place. There is never a clear direction of where the plot is heading. It is as if the author had a clear plan that lasted all the way to the first love scene, and subsequently Ms Marvelle has to make up things as she goes along. The tone of the book is pretty schizophrenic too. It can’t seem to make up its mind whether it wants to be a comedy, an erotic romance, or an action drama, so the story often careens from one extreme to another.
As I’ve mentioned, I like the author’s style and I am going to see how her next book will be, but this book is simply horrible. By the last page, I dislike the hero, lament the destruction of all that is fun about the heroine, and I feel somewhat seasick from the way the plot moves in all directions. I think the author has something good when it comes to her technique, but when her execution is off, like in this book, there is plenty of pain and suffering to be had.