Avon Impulse, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-06-212880-5
Historical Romance, 2013
Less Than a Gentleman previously languished in the abyssal depths of Kerrelyn Sparks’s unsold novel folder until she made it big with romantic urban fantasy and Avon decided to release this thing in its digital line as some form of lower-investment money maker. This is a historical romance set in America during a time when the British and the Americans are at war, but for some reason, the main characters are mostly all about gowns and teas despite the, you know, war going on around them.
Captain Matthias Thomas was previously imprisoned by the Red Coats, but now that he is out and about, his greatest annoyance is actually the women of his family pestering him to get married. I know, who writes these things, right? Anyway, when the story opens, after doing some high action soldierly stuff to prove to discriminating romance readers that he is indeed capable of saving heroines in distress, Matthias gets his mission: to locate the currently MIA Munro sisters for their father. You see, these sisters broke away from the family to be sassy, independent twenty-first women, but oops, they are learning that it’s hard to do that when their mental capacity is somewhat above “child woman” but still below “sophisticated intelligence”.
Indeed, it is up to our heroine Caroline Munro to help lead her pregnant sister and some kids safely to their destination, her soldier father’s camp, after their home was burned down by dreadful cartoon villain British vermin. That’s one theme that will keep popping up here, by the way – all British are scumbags and all Americans are good, with no in-between – so I hope you like that if you’re going to read this thing. Left on their own in the wilds, Caroline quickly loses their only horse to a thief and learns that her father may be killed in battle just like her sister’s man may have been.
Fortunately, they soon stumble upon a grand house and is mistaken by the lady to be the woman she has invited over to be paired off with her son. Yes, the Munro clan have stumbled upon Matthias’s family home, and yes, he soon stumbles into the same bed that she is sleeping in, because that’s how cool people meet in this kind of stories.
This story is bipolar in nature – it doesn’t seem to know whether it wants to be a tale of cozy courtship in a big house or a tale of a romance amidst a war. It tries to be both, and the result is severe whiplash on my part. Why is Matthias’s mother throwing house parties in a time of war, and why are women coming over to visit and meet Matthias in a time like this? I’d like to imagine that maybe the Munro women stumbled down a ravine and died without realizing it, and the whole thing with the big house is some kind of purgatory pit stop moment, but no, the whole thing is supposed to be as real as a historical romance can be. It’s hard to reconcile this leisurely courtship aspect of the story with the whole British-are-coming-to-kill-and-rape-everybody thing, and hence, I find myself scratching my head or gawking at the words on the pages as I keep reading.
Mind you, the evil British soldiers eventually show up in the late third or so, and Caroline is soon being pursued by the evil, leering villainous vermin leader, so yes, the author still remembers that this is supposed to be a wartime romance story. Still, it is nice of these villains to show up only after Matthias and Caroline have come to terms with one another.
On the bright side, there is a kind of endearing charm to the story. Perhaps it’s the narrative style, as the author has a bouncy, lively way with words that make the story eminently readable even when it’s at its most absurd. Matthias is pretty ridiculous as a hero – he seems unaffected by the events of the war, and his singular angst is that he is being pressured to meet women he’d no interest in marrying, and oh, there are so many women who just want his big house. Dude, who cares? The house may get burned down by the British soldiers tomorrow for all I know. Caroline is far less capable than the author would like me to think, but still, she has some spirit and the girl doesn’t quit fighting, and I find that aspect of her endearing. Ultimately, the absurdities of this story pile up to such a degree that I just have to just go with the flow and ride the nonsense train, and it turns out to be quite the fun ride.
So, yes, read Less Than a Gentleman if you must, but major adjustments of expectations and an ability to embrace the loony may be necessary in order to fully enjoy it. I manage to do it in the end, but I can’t vouch for anyone else!