Mills & Boon, £4.99, ISBN 978-0-263-91690-4
Historical Romance, 2016
Return of the Runaway is a road trip story, taking place from Verdun, France all the way back to London, England. Our heroine Cassandra Witney believed that she was marrying out of love, and followed her husband Gerald to France when the Treaty of Amiens went into accord. Gerald had the grace to die when Cassie discovered that he married her only for her money. Now, Napoleon has ordered the detention of Englishmen between 16 to 60 in France, and Cassie finally decides that it is time to get out ASAP. Alas, she is about to raped and robbed by those she is paying to get her out of there shortly after the story opens. Fortunately, surgeon and Prisoner 24601-wannabe Raoul Doulevant is there to save her. He has his path, she has hers, but he reluctantly decides to be a gentleman and escort her. The rest, as they say, is history.
I really want to like this story because heaven knows, it’s not often I come across road trip stories these days. However, the inconsistent characters soon drive me crazy.
Cassie is not an action heroine, I get that, but the author allows her the occasional moments of ingenuity and resourcefulness, and I like that. However, it is hard to get a good grasp of her character because the author often has Cassie going all weird on me. For example, Raoul tries to pass them off as husband and wife, which makes sense, when they are traveling, but she’d try to tell all and sundry that no, she is not his wife and she is an Englishwoman making her way back to England. Why? She nearly got robbed and raped because of this revelation, so why is she intent on blabbing this to everyone even after what she has gone through? She also gets annoyed and irritated at the weirdest moments, and when she should realistically be annoyed, she instead goes all wise and accepting. It is hard to get a good idea of who and what Cassie is – whoever she is seems to change depending on whether the author needs her characters to hiss and snarl at once another or to make kissing faces.
Raoul is the worse one here. He too suffers from back-and-forth behavior, but his personality is a more coherent. Still, and I’m not sure whether this is by design, Raoul comes off as an utterly childish boor. He comes on so strong to Cassie, it’s often like watching a drunk Pepé Le Pew trying to nominate himself to be the next star of The Bachelor. But each time he reels her in, he decides that she can’t get too close to him, so he will deliberately say hurtful things. When she snarls at him, he’d be like, yeah, the feeling’s mutual, so there. And then, he will start to reel her back in. The whole thing feels pointless after a while, and I start to feel sorry for the heroine, who has to depend on him to get her to safety anyway. Worse, this guy keeps moaning and bleating all the way to the last few pages about how he is not worthy of her or how he doesn’t want her anyway because his life has no room for love. Who cares? He’s just a childish high-maintenance guy who loves playing hard to get.
On top of that, he’s a judgmental twat who has no problems thinking of her in all kinds of negative light, all the while complaining that aristocrats are judgmental twats. The author also uses him as a mouthpiece to portray the aristocrats as users and tyrants, stopping just short of saying that the French are right in lopping off the heads of those people, blah blah blah.
In other words, Raoul is hero from a Nicholas Sparks book that somehow manages to find his way here with his “I can’t give you what you need (well, aside from the thing in my pants, which is of course the best you’ve ever had), so I must leave you now as I’m not good for you and I also am too manly to be in love; I know you will spend the rest of your line pining after me and my big prong, but that’s okay, I’m awesome and I made you feel awesome so your love for me is something I will cherish as I walk away manfully to the rest of my life! BYE BYE!” nonsense.
Return of the Runaway is, at the end of the day, not exactly a runaway success.