Zebra, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4201-2717-1
Historical Romance, 2015
Unlike his fellow Lost Lords, Daniel Herbert is a doctor who runs a free infirmary in Bristol. He throws himself into his work, never caring for good times with women, wine, and song. He’s also a vicar, although he prefers to heal rather than to baptize and marry the members of the flock. His life recently took an unexpected turn when his parents attended the party of a very distant titled uncle, and they, along with other guests and the host as well, all perished from some kind of disease outbreak. All the heirs of now dead Lord Romayne were at the party, so Daniel finds himself the new Lord Romayne. He wishes that he can still be a doctor for all, and he comes to a pretty good solution after conferring with his buddies: if he can find a sensible wife who supports his “eccentric” desire to be the new patron saint for the diseased and downtrodden, she can manage the household and such, leaving him free to poke people with syringes and what not. Alright then – Lord Romayne decides to go to town.
At the other part of town (well, not literally), our heroine Jessie Kelham’s older and kindly husband has passed on. The man had a surprise for her and their daughter Beth: thanks to some old rules, the barony of Kelham can be passed on to a female, so Beth is named by the man’s will as the heir, much to the disgust of the evil cousin stereotype that every story like this needs to have. However, the surprise is not entirely fool-proof against evil cousins: Frederick Kelham announces that he will petition the courts for the custody of Beth. After conferring with her late husband’s lawyer, Jessie realizes that finding a husband, a powerful one, may be one way to ensure that Frederick will never succeed in wresting Beth from her. Jessie knows the ladies of the heroes of previous books, so she accepts their invitation to town, hoping to land a husband at the end of the day.
Not Always a Saint sounds pretty decent, doesn’t it? For a moment, I thought the old Mary Jo Putney is back, because Daniel is such a darling and I almost shed tears when Jessie says goodbye to her soon-to-croak husband. When Daniel and Jessie meet across the ballroom, it feels like the white doves would take to the air and all the kids would come running out of the church to do a cute version of Let It Go like it’s the start of a new beautiful, amazing day.
And the Daniel proposes marriage and Jessie completely loses her mind. Oh no, she has been a scarlet A – a capital A, big A, bigger than all the A’s in the land – of a woman in the past, so she cannot! Just cannot! I can only wonder what happened to that woman who wanted to marry to secure her daughter’s future. I guess an imbecile can’t change her stripes overnight, sigh. She claims that she wants to marry an older man who is rich and powerful enough to protect her daughter while caring for the two of them. Daniel fits the bill, but she can’t marry him, because she’s not good enough to be his wife! Does this mean she wants to marry a lowlife of a scumbag? Who knows – aren’t we lucky that Jessie never gets the fate she is clearly angling for?
Of course, after she turns him down, she desperately forces him to marry her shortly after because… I don’t know, no drama is bad drama? A lot of the fuss and nonsense in this story could have been avoided if Jessie actually has something in her brain cavity other than rejected scripts by Mary Balogh and Jo Beverley.
The story turns into something really gross from that point. Jessie turns into this leaking watering spout constantly needing reassurances and coddling as it is revealed how every one from her father to her first bloke to her husband’s cousin are all one-dimensional purely evil mustache-twirling crackpot extravaganza of Jar Jar Binks proportion. Jessie herself practically claws her way into more and more emotional distress in her demented quest to become the most noble martyr in the world, but Daniel is fortunately always there to greet her constant trainwreck-style hysterical outbursts with constant “There, there, sweetheart, you can’t blame yourself, you’re still awesome!” assurances. As the story progresses, the melodrama just keeps rising to increasingly hysterical levels – the villains become more and more evil, Jessie becomes more and more of an addled crybaby victim, and Daniel becomes increasingly one-dimensional in his noble superhero demeanor.
Seriously, Daniel starts saving everyone and fixing everything. Oh, he can’t kill or do anything bad to even the nastiest villains that try to kill everyone else, of course, as he is better than that, so he will trash them, and then heal them back with his super doctor mojo. One villain immediately becomes repentant and contrite over a single page after being touched by Daniel’s saintly aura. He even gives Jessie the strength to construct paragraphs of full sentences later in the story.
By the last page. Jessie the victim has found missing family relatives, close friends, new life, everything amazing so that she will finally shine like a diamond. Thanks to Daniel, of course, the saint who keeps acting so hoity-toity holy and benevolent that I start wishing for someone to stab the feces out of him. These characters are all gross in how one-dimensional they all are – they are either victims or saints on one side of the board, or snarling incompetent hammy villains on the other side. The saccharine level alone in this story, coupled to that self-loathing wretch Jessie’s bizarre need to immolate herself at every opportunity, can be fatal if one is not careful. The hero gives me diabetes, the heroine gives me cavities, and this book makes me want to drink some acid to wash the sugar overload away.