Grand Central Publishing, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-446-54206-7
Historical Romance, 2011
There are some major spoilers in this review, both for this book and the previously related book Barely a Lady, so proceed with caution. I’m sorry to have to do this, but dissecting this review while trying to be vague about details is like performing a live autopsy on Elvis without telling you the graphic details. You will wish to throw stones at me, and I don’t think we both want that.
So, Never a Gentleman. On the bright side, it is far more believable as a forgiveness tract than Barely a Lady. After all, in this one, the heroine is subjected to only a few months of utter public humiliation, cutting insults and cruel taunts from her own husband, and the sight of her husband having sex with his mistress before insulting her to that mistress’s delight. No big deal, right? Any romance heroine worth the salt on her hair suit should be able to forgive such treatment. Compared to the previous book, where the heroine willingly forgives the hero for abandoning her and letting her lose her child on her own, and you can see why I find this one a much more believable book in comparison. The keywords here being “in comparison”, of course.
No, the problem with this book isn’t the fact that the hero, Diccan Hillard, is porking women everywhere and treating his wife, our heroine Grace Fairchild, like dirt in the name of saving the motherland – we all have our crosses to bear, after all, and whoring for the Queen and Country is really not bad a cause, I guess. It could be worse – he could be porking other women for the sake of porking. If our heroine gets the clap from the hero due to his patriotic infidelity, at least he can argue that he did it for the greater good. No, the problem is this: the only thing remotely real is the heroine’s anguish. Everything else is just too bizarre. And when the only thing real about this book is the heroine’s heart constantly being shattered by the hero’s awful treatment of her… ouch.
Okay, the plot. Do remember as you read that I am not making this up. Diccan Hilliard is a spy, and in this story, he learns of a dire plot to assassinate Wellington. The bad guys know that he knows, so they drug him… and put him naked in bed with Grace Fairchild. Apparently with him being compromised and forced to wed a woman everyone else considers ugly and crippled (due to a bad leg) is a good solution to keep him distracted as opposed to… oh, I don’t know, shipping him off to Bora Bora while he’s all drugged up. Grace doesn’t want to marry, since she’s perfectly fine with living in isolation like she’s done all her life, but her “best friend” guilt trips her by saying that poor Diccan will be ruined, among other things, if they don’t get married. So of course Grace consents to marry him. They have an awkward wedding night where Diccan learns that you can’t judge a trollop by the color of her rug (as opposed to the color of her curtains) but they get along pretty fine… until Diccan is ordered to boink his old mistress (French, of course) for information.
And so he does, if only to keep his wife safe, with gusto and unflagging stamina. He also cuts her to pieces by insulting and belittling her, making her feel like dirt, all in the name of making sure that she’s really safe. Now, the thing here is that it is so obvious that something is really wrong with the whole set up and indeed, Diccan is being set up to take the fall. But Diccan is too stupid to realize this. He’s… such a romance heroine, if you know what I mean, so eager to martyr himself and his unflagging erection in the name of love that he ends up making his loved one collateral damage in his pursuit for sainthood. I mean, really! Crushing the wife’s spirit is the only solution? Diccan never once stops to consider whether he should be doing that, or to even contemplate the whole wrongness of the situation. He is told to boink the French trollop, so he rushes off and does so… with a sigh of resignation, of course.
This brings me to another problem: this book is so busy having Diccan treating Grace like crap while flagellating himself in private that the author doesn’t have much room for believable character development. Grace, for a heroine who is called “the Sargeant”. is more like a whipped cabin boy. After seeing her husband shag his mistress and insult her to that woman, she asks Diccan to have sex with her the same way he had sex with his mistress. Huh? How did that come about? I don’t know. Both Grace and Diccan seem hell-bent to do things that worsen the situation between them without showing any believable motivation for such actions. And, of course, Grace finally takes him back without much effort, when I’d imagine that any sane woman in her position would at least kick the man in his tender parts before even considering that possibility. It’s not about pride or self respect, it’s about how that man turns on her and treats her with abominable cruelty in the blink of an eye. What’s to say he won’t do the same thing to her the next time he feels the need to “keep her safe”? Diccan is such a repulsively dim-witted moron in this story, it’s a tough sell that he’s somehow wisened up by the last page not to lay his pee-pee on the pipeline again for whatever cause du jour that has caught his fancy. Perhaps it is a good thing that Grace is such a doormat at the end of the day, because that is the only kind of woman who will somehow be happy being shackled to this dumb, dumb, dumb man for life.
On the bright side, the narrative is pretty easy to read. Unfortunately, that only makes Never a Gentleman a well-written train wreck. This story would have worked better is if it had been written in an over the top so-bad-it’s-good manner, the way those literal bodice rippers by Bertrice Small and Connie Mason can be sometimes. Treat a story this sordid with any degree of gravity – like the author has done – and the whole thing comes off like a well-intentioned but excruciatingly painful botched boob job of a book.