Avon, $6.99, ISBN 0-06-058408-4
Historical Romance, 2006
Karen Hawkins’s Her Master and Commander is the start of a two-book series involving brothers and Reeves, a fellow who could very well be the ancestor of Bruce Wayne’s butler, Alfred. Unfortunately, Ms Hawkins seems to have spent more time blindly following the Very Important Rules of Clichés without taking a step back to actually wonder whether the actual story makes sense.
The premise of the story is like this: our womanizing Earl of Rochester had sired many illegitimate kiddies but he had no legitimate offspring with his wife. Before he died, he set up a complicated and most probably historically inaccurate chain of motions to legitimize one of his illegitimate sons so that this son can inherit and therefore the properties that come with the title. This procedure involves all kinds of bribes given to relevant people and forged documents to give the impression that the Earl was legally married to the son’s mother. After the Earl passed on, our butler Reeves continues to look for a suitable son of the Earl to serve up to the late Earl’s board of trustees so that the man can be evaluated as a suitable heir to the title of the Earl of Rochester and all that comes with the title.
“Wait a minute,” you are probably asking at this moment, “the Earl took all that trouble and spent all that money to pretend that the man was his legitimate son… only to make that man face an evaluation? Why not just hand over the title to him right away?”
Well, I’ll let Ms Hawkins take this one since she is the author of this story. Personally, I’m wondering the same thing as well. But if the premise of this story actually makes sense, then there would be no story, Ms Hawkins will have to face her very irate editor, she may have her ears pulled for being a naughty lady, and the poor dear may have to end up writing for LoveSpell again. We won’t want that to happen to her now, do we?
The lucky man in question is our hero, Tristan Llevanth. He has a twin brother, Christian, but these two were separated when they were kids when the Earl ceased to send money to their barmaid mother and the mother got sent to prison for treason (don’t ask). Tristan ended up joining the Navy and graduated to piracy before he starred in a most romantic and tender scene where he held Admiral Nelson in his arms as the poor man died in Trafalgar while angels in the background wept and sang My Heart Will Go On. Today, he is a retired and mostly respectable man now living in a cottage by the sea in Dover, trying to whip his former crew mates into respectable folks when he’s not thinking of what a pest his neighbor, the widow Prudence Thistlewaithe, is because she keeps complaining about his sheep entering and wrecking havoc on her garden. Then comes Reeves with the news that Tristan is now the new Earl of Rochester, provided that he measures up to the expectations of the board of trustees. But no matter, Reeves is here to make sure that Tristan does just that. To do so, he ropes in Patience to teach Reeves the finer aspects of life like how to behave in genteel society. I’m sure you can see where this story is heading towards.
This is a hard book to enjoy when the most interesting aspects of Her Master and Commander are the colorful secondary characters such as Reeves and the man Tristan is training very hard to be a butler, Stevens, who eventually steal the show from Tristan and Patience. Apart from the humor, nearly everything about this story feels forced.
Tristan is a predictable hero. Of course he rejects the legacy of his father because of what he has done to Tristan’s family, but just as predictably he decides that he needs the money for the sake of his old crew mates. Of course. Likewise, Patience, being a widow, is pretty much just like I expect a typical widowed romance heroine to be. Their relationship has a haphazard feel to it – one moment they will be bickering, then they will be throwing themselves to each other the next. The subplots aren’t very interesting either. Tristan’s search for Christian leads only to an advertisement for the upcoming book that will feature Christian as the romantic lead. The internal conflicts are too obvious as plot devices thrown in just for conflict, especially towards the end when Tristan pulls off a stunt that, while succeeding in creating one more conflict before the story ends, pretty much undermines everything Reeves and Patience have tried to do for him.
Her Master and Commander seems to be a book that actually goes out of its way to be as predictable and unexciting as possible. I don’t know what Ms Hawkins is trying to do here – write books for patients recovering from cardiac arrests to read without fearing that they may encounter any undue excitement in those books? Maybe this series would be more interesting if it’s, say, some Georgian whodunit featuring Reeves the Intrepid Gay Brainy Butler and his boyfriend and aspiring butler, Stevens. Heck, even the Amazing Adventures of Reeves and Stevens, Professional Georgian Rat Exterminators, would be more interesting than the forced romance story of our very familiar and stereotypical hero and heroine.