Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-06-050758-6
Historical Romance, 2003
I think it’s time that Brenda Hiatt take a deep breath and relax before resuming her hacking away at the computer, if she can have the hero Noel Paxton waxing rhapsody about how the heroine Rowena Riverstone is beautifully “intelligent, curious, and innocent” (that’s on page 82) without wondering at the sheer contradiction of it all. How can you be curious and intelligent while remaining a dim-witted innocent? Anybody? I’ll take “virtues of a romance heroine” for $100, Alex.
That’s the problem with Innocent Passions. It tries so hard to sell me innocence as a virtue, all the way tragically oblivious as to how stupid it can come off while doing that. When Ms Hiatt is not too busy braining the heroine with her literary crowbar into a state of vegetative intelligence, some of poor Rowena’s IQ manages to reveal itself. Shame on the author for forcing that poor girl to be an idiot just to win a man. She is no better than those money-mad fame-mad mommas at Almack’s that everyone pooh-poohs at in this story.
Rowena writes political essays under a pseudonym, shockingly liberal ones, apparently. I wonder how this woman can write such cutting-edge visionary essays when no where in this story is she seen researching her stuff. Apparently you can party all day, play chess all night, spend an hour or two hammering an essay before bedtime and still be a social critic. And for such hack journalism, the author lavishly has the hero bestowing Rowena everything from “intelligent” to “spirited” to “strong-willed” with “innocent” and “naive” just as generously sprinkled to placate those readers that firmly believe any heroine but the gullible and self-depreciative ones must be evil.
The plot is this close to being a mess. Noel suspects that the Saint of the Seven Dials (don’t ask, long story, read the author’s last two books if you want to care) is a French spy. No, wait, so the Saint is not the French Spy… aha! The social critic is the spy! He will pose as the Saint and flush out the spy! He will woo Rowena and find this spy! Then the spy will die! Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! But wait, Rowena is the social critic! And she is not the spy! So who is the French Spy?
Alex, “convoluted”, $500. Did I win?
Innocent Passions alternately make me squirm and sigh. I sigh because sometimes things seem like a waste: some scenes – like Rowena deliberately losing in chess once she knows what Noel’s game is – are very good and they deserve to be in a romance novel where the hero and the heroine can spar wits without the heroine going all twitchy and stupid. Some scenes of Noel and Rowena are very nicely done – unforced and actually very readable – but these scenes are too few.
What I do find in abundance is the author checking off the laundry list for formulaic stupid heroes and the unoriginal men who love them.
Rowena makes self-depreciation an art form that will not die, dammit. Her purportedly great knowledge of politics seems like wallpaper characterization, because this intelligence only comes to play when she is grilling her audience (“What do you think of this? That? This? That?”). People who flee from her monotonous conversation skills are deemed “shallow” and “dull”. Hilarious. And since she seems to spend all her time in ballrooms and hallways instead of actually getting her hands dirty and seeing the actual world she is writing about, her role as a social critic is as convincing as George W Bush’s high school elocution trophies. Suffering momma, stupid brother, overemotional actions-before-thoughts – they’re all here.
Noel fares better, but then again, I always find unoriginal romance heroes more tolerable than idiotic heroines. For some reason, extreme stupidity isn’t part of the formula when it comes to generic Secret Agent British Noble heroes, thank goodness, but that doesn’t mean Noel is any more interesting than Rowena. Less grating, yes, less dull, nope. Since he keeps going on and on about Rowena’s mythical brainpower only to fail miserably when the true test of his faith in her comes about, he comes off as dim though.