Berkley Sensation, $6.99, ISBN 0-425-19483-3
Historical Romance, 2004
Miss Wonderful features two fun characters. Alistair Carrington is a charming hero that is not your usual rake with typical baggage. Mirabel Olridge is a bluestocking, but she’s sensible, level-headed, and doesn’t run around acting like some ten-year old girl. Unfortunately, I find this book too slow-moving for my liking and ultimately I’m not as enamored with Loretta Chase’s latest book as I thought I would.
Alistair is the third son in his family, which by right makes him an undesirable catch for a husband as he won’t be inheriting a title and the properties that come with the title anytime soon, especially after the heir and the spare have settled down and provided more heirs and spares in the process. Alistair as a result is just a big drain on his father’s finances. After Alistair’s sojourn in Waterloo that makes him a hero (although he isn’t sure how he ended up one) and leaves him with a limp, his father has had enough with Alistair’s expensive tailor bills and even more expensive lawsuits and settlements that arise from Alistair’s misadventures in love and issues an ultimatum.
Alistair will become a responsible person or his father will have to sell off the properties reserved by the Earl of Hargate for Alistair’s younger brothers’ egg nests to keep Alistair in the lifestyle he is accustomed to. Alistair can’t have that, of course, so he will have to find responsibility in one of the two ways men of his station can choose to do: marry into money or work his way into money. Alistair chooses the latter route, partnering with his financially in-dire-straits friend to build a canal in Derbyshire that can speed up transportation and hopefully reap in some profits.
He encounters opposition from Mirabel Olridge, the daughter of the largest landowner of Derbyshire who also rules the estate as her father has gone batty after his wife’s death and becomes obsessed with botany. The story revolves around what happens when Alistair comes down to Derbyshire to talk the landowners into agreeing to allow the canal to be built only to encounter Mirabel.
The main characters are not the typical cookie-cutter kind and will delight readers tired of the same old made-in-Avon broody rakes with mother issues and idiotic and immature self-professed bluestockings plagued with tendencies to come up with bizarre plans no sane adult person would even consider.
Alistair isn’t a rake – he’s just a person who falls in love so easily with the wrong kind of women. He doesn’t do that slutty thing. He doesn’t even do that brood-and-whine thing either: Alistair is charming, generous with his wit and emotions, and he’s not afraid to be a Regency-era metrosexual with impeccable fashion sense. Mirabel, as I’m mentioned, is refreshingly sensible and level-headed so that when she comes up with a plan, it’s a sensible, practical plan instead of some idiotic scheme that will make me cringe. She is a genuine bluestocking in that she is educated but she is also human in that she misses the wonderful time she had in London during her one and only season before her responsibilities and obligations have her returning to Derbyshire. That’s the best aspects of Ms Chase’s characters in Miss Wonderful: they may seem to be familiar Regency historical stereotypes at first, but it doesn’t take long before they become more fully-realized characters.
But egads, this book is slow. The really taut sexual tension in the author’s previous books is dialed down for tamer traditional Regency levels where the characters think briefly about the each other’s attractive physical traits for one paragraph or two before moving on to more wholesome topics like the beautiful scenery around Derbyshire or how vexing the other person is. For the first half of the book, the characters don’t do anything other than to talk about polite pleasantries or indulge in mental monologues about the other person, with a few horse-riding scenes and maybe a leg injury or two to force these two to remain together and talk some more. As much as I’d like to pretend that I am a sophisticated reader enamored with such oh-so-adroitly witty conservation that I can detect the red-hot sexual tension that somehow can be inferred from between the lines in the characters’ chit-chat sessions, to be honest I am actually bored by the slow pace of the story.
The pace picks up once it is established that someone may have sinister intentions regarding the canal and once these two finally start pawing at each other, but even so, I’m quite disappointed that Ms Chase decides to introduce stereotypical motivations behind the heroine’s desire to sleep with the hero and other turn of events that just don’t do the far from stereotypical characters justice. Still, Ms Chase knows how to tell a story and I have a pleasant time reading the faster-paced later portions of the story.
Miss Wonderful is closer to the author’s traditional Regency romances than her popular bawdy Avon romance novels. I can imagine that this book will be a hit with her fans that have followed her since her traditional Regency days, but fans that are expecting something as fast-paced, naughty, and energetic as Lord of Scoundrels may have to alter their expectations a little.