Harlequin Historical, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-29868-6
Historical Romance, 2016
Lucien Howard is one of those adorable English earls – the Earl of Ross, specifically – who naturally have nothing better to do than to go pew-pew at French soldiers abroad, without making plans to have an heir or anything like that first. He gets wounded – of course – and would have died were not for our heroine Alejandra Fernandez y Santo Domingo and her friend dragging him back to her father’s place. Even then, it is a close call. Just imagine – if only Napoleon had waited a little longer, England would have sent all her Dukes, Earls, Viscounts, whatever to the battlefield front lines, and then all there are left in England would be the fat and ugly men. That country would have been overcome in no time.
Anyway, these two. Alejandra’s father happens to be the boss of the Spanish guerillas, and he has no love for the French who have completely routed the English troops and settled down in his backyard. He also doesn’t trust Lucien, and would like to send Lucien back to England once the man recovers… for a price, of course, as Alejandra’s father has plans to use Lucien as his contact in England. Lucien and Alejandra fall in love in the meantime, but alas, a number of external conflicts have to be seen to before they can find a happily ever after.
Marriage Made in Rebellion – and no, I have no clue what that title means either – is a story that is too big for its length. The first half is solid, as Alejandra and Lucien slowly learn more about one another. At that time, I can’t make any judgment about these two, but watching them unraveling the other person is a fascinating experience. Both of them don’t seem like stock template characters, and there are plenty of tempestuous feelings to go around. Their motivations and personalities can be tough to discern, but figuring all that out is part of the fun.
And then comes the second half, which sees the story taking a nosedive. A big chunk of important developments are glossed over, hence my impression that this story should have been longer, and the end result is like a leisurely train ride suddenly accelerating and catching all the passengers by surprise. The story feels unsatisfying, even incomplete, because of this.
Worse, the author chooses to pile all kinds of drama on the heroine, to put her in a position of utter weakness, so that the hero can come swooping in for a very conventional knight in shining armor gig. Up until that point, the heroine is the hero’s equal. But then, the heroine has to become a twit, and then runs right into the ground by demonstrating that she cannot be trusted to do things on her own. Money problems, pressed into agreeing to have skanky sex by unsavory men and agreeing to it because she wants to save everyone and everybody (don’t worry, Lucien shows up to make sure that the only man getting into that honey is him), wedged in by all sides, et cetera – you name it, she’s got it. She also starts acting like everything she did – which she said earlier was for a noble cause – is a reason to hate herself. She’s a whore, blah blah blah, unworthy, yadda yadda yadda, and becomes tedious and annoying in the process.
It’s a good thing that Lucien is an earl, or else she would have to live as a working class lady, and the story has shown that she would fare worse than Fantine by the docks.
The second half isn’t technically bad, but it is a lousy payoff after the rather unconventional first half that set up all kinds of expectations in me – expectations that are never met, of course. I don’t regret reading this book at the end of the day, as there is enough drama and pathos to make me happy. Lucien, especially, can be breathtaking in how freely he loves Alejandra. When he breaks down after believing that she is gone from him forever, I find myself feeling a bit choked up myself. But the second half is a very disappointing payoff, so if you do want to read this one, I’d suggest keeping your expectations as low as possible and tamper any high hopes you may feel while reading the early chapters.