Zebra, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-4201-1722-6
Historical Romance, 2011
Now, before you run off to buy Mary Jo Putney’s Nowhere Near Respectable, you should realize that this book doesn’t compare in any way to the author’s older books when it comes to emotional drama. This one is all about the action and our main characters being fabulous, as the synopsis will tell you. This book has more in common with a typical fare from Gaelen Foley than Ms Putney’s older books, let’s just say.
Kiri Lawford is in London for a year now, and so far she’s not sure whether she’s enjoying the experience. She’s in London with her parents because it’s time for her to settle down with a respectable gentleman of good stock, but she’s half-Indian. Or, as this book would say, half-Hindu. She’s dismayed by the prejudice shown by some people towards her mother, who’s an Indian princess. Amusingly enough, nothing is said about her so-called open-minded self being in London to snag an English husband. Is she too hoity-toity for a good-looking Indian maharajah? Anyway, one day, while attending a party in the country, she overhears the mother of the guy she is thinking of marrying pooh-poohing her mother as well as herself. She grabs a horse and flees the scene, only to be captured by some smugglers when she stumbles upon them in action.
Never mind. Kiri is truly amazing. She uses her diamond ring to cut free her bonds. She is about to go all kung-fu and super wing chun on them all when the smugglers are visited by our hero, Damian MacKenzie, a dapper scoundrel of a guy who is looking to buy some fine alcoholic beverages for his gentleman’s club Damian’s. Wishing to save a lady in distress, Damian cheats at cards to “win” her from the smugglers, only to be surprised when the lady transforms herself into Chun Li and hai-ya‘s his rear end. They soon realize that they are on the same side – the League of Awesome and Beautiful People – and share a kiss before parting ways.
Kiri can’t get him out of her mind, however, so when she has the chance to attend a masked ball at Damian’s, she jumps at the chance. Also in attendance, in disguise of course, is Princess Charlotte of Wales. When the princess is about to be captured by evil men employed by – who else? – mean French people, Kiri leaps into the air, transforms into Sailor Moon and whoops some baddies while Mac goes Super Saiyan to save the day. United to defeat the French meanies and protect the princess, Kiri and Mac strike a pose and deliver justice to the world while, naturally, falling in love with each other.
Both characters are just awesome, but this is nothing new, as I dare anyone to tell me that the characters of the author’s previous books, especially One Perfect Rose, are not paragons of perfection. However, while in the past the author spends some time to show how these paragons are wounded inside and what not, here, Kiri and Mac are superficial characters in comparison, existing only to look cool while saving the day. Kiri is just fabulously awesome as she can do everything – Indian martial arts, acting, solving puzzles, winning the hearts of everyone, and more – and she is also sexually adventurous, disgustingly logical, unfazed by danger, and fabulous all over when she’s not making sense all the time. Mac is just as amazing – he is sensible, logical, good at everything, gallant, chivalrous, and charming, and that’s only on Monday. He’s also deadly with the knife and the gun, and even better, he’s surrounded by awesome friends who supply him with knowledge, expertise, and other aid to make him even more powerful than Chuck Norris.
Having said that, this story is still an entertaining read, as the two characters work well together and the author also humanizes the villains somewhat, so the good guys aren’t playing on a completely suspense-free lopsided field tilted to their advantage. In a way, the shallowness of the characters actually make this story palatable, as Kiri and Mac don’t have the chance to play the martyr or act like an emo dope. They just get down to being awesome in a no-nonsense way, so it is easy to appreciate the over the top campy story for what it is. It also helps that Ms Putney is good at what she does: the narrative is smooth and engaging, and the pacing never flags.
Nowhere Near Respectable is not subtle when it comes to being what it is: a story of two awesome people connecting while taking down the bad guys as if they are superheroes for the day. It’s nowhere near as flashy and campy as a story by Gaelen Foley, but now I’m intrigued by what may happen if Ms Putney really lets down her hair and comes out with a 19th-century romantic take of, I don’t know, something like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen perhaps. Hey, don’t laugh. I’d take that over the cloying and saccharine sentimental pap that the author had produced in her last few historical romances.