Avon Impulse, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-06-274739-6
Historical Romance, 2018
If you are tired of all those irrepressibly feisty heroines of 19th century London who always have a glib one-liner for every situation, you may find Marie Tremayne’s Lady in Waiting a refreshing kind of read. On the other hand – because we can’t have everything – the heroine Clara Mayfield is so hapless and twee that she’d either tug at your heartstrings or make you want to grit your teeth hard and gargle with vinegar.
Clara can’t stay out of trouble. It all begins when she helps her sister elope with an unsuitable bloke, because that’s what women are supposed to do. Follow their hearts, regardless of the consequences. Well, our heroine has to face the consequences for her altruism. First, when word gets out that the eldest Mayfield daughter is putting out to some guy with no pedigree, the family is shunned. Our heroine finds all her friends that no longer call on her to be so rude (yes, really), and she is dismayed when she is no longer invited to parties. Very well, she resigns herself to live as a spinster for the rest of her life…
Well, not so fast. You see, her parents invested a lot of money to bring these two girls out to London, and now, they need to recoup the money or the family is ruined. Hence, the parents pick the most openly lecherous and nasty Baron Rutherford to marry Clara ASAP. Our heroine is willing to lay down and wait for her Martyr of the Year award to come her way, but now that she realizes that she’d be lying down for a completely different purpose, she flees after leaving a note to her parents declaring that she couldn’t marry that man. So the family is ruined forever – this, people, is why you don’t raise your daughters to be romance novel heroines. They are all hopeless.
Clara ends up as a maid in the household of William, the newly minted Earl of Ashworth. Now, instead of some mouthy, sassy heroine who immediately bosses the hero around, Clara instead plays the more realistic role of the inept and clumsy maid whose magnetism to misfortune is portrayed, unironically, as one of the reasons why William is attracted to her. As he tells her towards the end, he’s in love with her since he nearly kills her earlier in the story when she is lost in her thoughts so much that she fails to see that she has walked right in front of his carriage.
That’s the pattern of Clara’s behavior in this story: she reeks “Won’t a manly man come save me?” from every pore of her helpless, hapless, flailing body because when she’s not being the target of lecherous pigs like the Baron, she is out of her depths in basically everything except for mothering the obligatory brat of the house. When she’s not wailing about how helpless she is, she is in tears. I have to check the copyright date of this book a few times, because Clara seems to have walked out from a romance novel from the 1980s: the author’s unapologetic portrayal of the heroine as a damsel that needs rescuing is not something I find often these days, and most authors at the very least pay lip service to notions of independence and feminism in their stories.
Here’s the thing, though: Clara is not entirely stupid. In fact, she has a good sense of awareness when it comes to the non-stop messes she keeps finding herself in. However, the author’s determined to have Clara play the martyr all the way to the end, so our heroine actually devolves as a character as the story progresses. Sure, our heroine does plenty of unwise things earlier in the story, but at least she’s proactive. She does what she did earlier in the story to be happy, but then she decides that her actions have led to her ruination, and hence, she can’t be happy anymore, and as a result, she predictably cannot let William entertain the notion that he should make her an honest woman. Our heroine has regressed into a passive martyr whose reaction to every single adversity is to lament that she’s doomed to suffer forever and she can’t let anyone try to make her happy because damn it, she really wants that medal.
Clara devolves into something akin to a ten-year old girl by the last page in terms of how she thinks and feels. She’s so happy that her parents love her again, and all her friends that used to shun her are now BFFs with her again too – just in time to star in the next few books by the author, of course – so everything is perfect again. She has her true love, so yes, perfect, perfect, perfect. Is this woman for real? No anger, no resentment, nothing at all for what her parents tried to do to her? Nothing about the heroine is believable. She’s just some rag doll animated by strings that are pulled by the author.
As for William, he’s the standard brooding dude with some traumatic incident in his past – his job, aside from brooding, is to rescue the heroine, prop up her self esteem, and of course save her from the evil baron for the grand climax. Nothing different or interesting to see here.
Lady in Waiting is a cleanly written story, but the heroine is too much of a plot device bent on grasping at straws to be the biggest, most hapless martyr-in-distress ever. Because the entire crux of the story revolves around her melodramatic mishaps, the fact that her reactions and emotions to her non-stop distress never ring real causes this story to be more contrived than I’d have liked.