Zebra, $3.99, ISBN 978-1-4201-0654-1
Historical Romance, 2009
In Vanessa Kelly’s Mastering the Marquess,we have our heroine Meredith Burnley fleeing her country home with her half-sister Annabel in tow because they are both in trouble. Orphaned and left under the care of their uncle, Meredith and Annabel face dire distress. Their uncle wants Meredith to marry his son Jacob or else Annabel, depressed ever since the poor dear saw her father die in front of her, will be sent to an asylum for the insane. This is a plot to allow the uncle to gain Annabel’s inheritance. If you are wondering why the uncle doesn’t then force Annabel to marry his son, please direct your question to the author because hey, I’m just the reader here.
Meredith’s plan is to throw themselves at the mercy of Annabel’s grandfather, which is a good one if you ask me. It was a long story involving the disinheritance of Annabel’s mother when she married Meredith’s father against these old coots’ wishes, so to cut a long story short, Meredith soon finds an ally in Annabel’s grandmother who dearly wishes a reconciliation with her granddaughter. Meredith has to be coerced to stay with Annabel for the duration of the Season as they figure out the best way to extricate the sisters from their dilemma. Meredith is soon making eyes with Stephen Mallory, the Marquess in the title of this book, but Annabel’s grandmother plans to wed Stephen to Annabel in order to protect Annabel. Oh, what will happen now? Meanwhile, the creepy uncle won’t give up on the two sisters so easily, so he’s waiting in the wings to cause trouble.
Were not for some significant plotting issues, Mastering the Marquess would be a pleasant, if rather familiar, read featuring bluestockings, gentlemen, and other characters I have encountered many times in this kind of stories. Ms Kelly can sometimes get a little too sentimental here for my liking, but there is a certain charm to the easy-flowing prose that I can easily enjoy.
But the plot has some problems. A big problem here is how the author allows the main characters to be bewilderingly negligent about the safety of the sisters, so much so that they pretty much allow the bad guys to waltz into the sisters’ place for the grand denouement. Judging from Stephen’s reaction when this occurs, I strongly suspect that the author is aware that her characters have been very careless up to that point. While I’m not demanding that the characters in my story to be perfect – really, so stop rolling up your eyes – the timing and the way the author introduces all those “Oops, we made a boo-boo!” events to bring about the denouement can be very contrived indeed.
Meredith’s character is also inconsistent in this story. Initially, I quite like her because she’s daring and resourceful enough to rescue herself and her sister from trouble. However, once she is with Annabel’s family, Meredith turns into this ridiculous creature who has lost all the spine she displayed in the first few chapters of this book. Meredith is always weeping, it’s ridiculous. Not only that, she’s horribly self-depreciating. She thinks she’s plain and destined to be on the shelf when at the same time she is described by other people in glowing superlatives such as “astoundingly beautiful”. Stephen, in fact, believes that she is the most beautiful woman he has ever seen. And yet, Meredith will look at herself decked out in beautiful evening wear in one scene and remarks to herself that her physical flaws mar the perfection of those clothes. The more Meredith tries to insist that she’s a pitiful hag, the more I feel like forcing her to look into a mirror before bashing her head against that mirror.
What, do I come off as too violent? That’s because Meredith is too stupid for words too. Moments after she’s been all but mauled by her uncle in their town house (she is rescued only by the timely arrival of Stephen and a male cousin), she insists that Stephen doesn’t have to hire a strapping male footman to protect the household because that will be too expensive and she really doesn’t want to impose. Another example is that she actually agrees to allow her cousin – the wicked uncle’s son – to keep seeing her because of protocol and because she isn’t convinced that this cousin is her enemy. My god. Meredith has the worst trait habits of a typical heroine by Mary Balogh combined with plenty of unhealthy neurotic self-esteem issues. Even in the epilogue, Meredith is still up to her nonsense.
In the end, I find myself thinking that I may enjoy a book written by Vanessa Kelly one day, but this book is definitely not it. There are too many things about it that annoy me silly.