Mills & Boon, £4.99, ISBN 978-0-263-92588-3
Historical Romance, 2017
It’s a shame that the author didn’t name her heroine Rita, or else we could have a title such as Reckless Rascal Ruins Rebellious Rita. That’s not an accurate title for the story at all, but then again, neither is Ruined by the Reckless Viscount.
James Waverly, Viscount Winterton, isn’t reckless as much as he isn’t thinking too clearly that one fateful evening. As a favor to his brother, he is hoping to abduct that man’s not-at-all respectable girlfriend and ferry her out of harm’s way, but instead, he abducts our heroine Florentia Hale-Burrton, who is just having her first Season. Her father shoots him at the end of the evening, but enough people have seen this shadowy fellow abduct our heroine, so she is now ruined in the eyes of Society.
Cut to six years later. Since his mistake, James has had a rather colorful life as a British spy in America, and now he is back in London. He learns that Florentia has never recovered from his mistake – she became a recluse since that evening, and her family has fallen on hard times. Interestingly, she has never revealed the identity of his abductor, so his secret is safe. But still, he realizes that he is the cause of her ruination and, indirectly, the subsequent negative impact on her family. But he has no idea how to even start to make amends. In the meantime, he decides to ask for his portrait to be painted by the talented artist, one Frederick Rutherford, who is all the rage in Society.
Yes, that Frederick is actually Florentia in her manly disguise. Well, the family has to make a living somehow, and it’s not like she can just go out and say, “Hello? Remember me, I was kidnapped and who knows, maybe even raped and worse, but you people treat me like crap anyway because somehow I am at fault here… but anyway, want me to paint your mug, you bastards and bitches?” When James shows up, her heart skips a beat. He doesn’t see through her disguise, but oh, she knows him. Should she try to avenge herself? Or perhaps, this is an opportunity to find closure.
You see, Florentia is a rather introspective person – that explains her being an artist, I suppose – and she is as fascinated by her abductor as much as she tries to hate him. The thing is, she realized that night that James made an honest mistake, so she knows that he didn’t act out of malice. She… oh, she doesn’t know what she wants when it comes to him. So, she paints him. Meanwhile, he tries to look into the circumstances behind his father’s death – the reason he is back in town.
In a way, this story is a mess, mostly because the author as usual tries to tackle too many things in her story. The father thing, for example, could have been a full plot in a book, and yet it is compressed here, fighting for space with the relationship between James and Florentia. If you have read anything by the author, you will also know that she loves her florid, bombastic, over the top melodrama, and here, the melodrama is in full bloom. There are conversations that drip purple to the point that they resemble bombastic monologues delivered on stage during an overwrought play.
But I find that kind of melodrama too delicious for words. I lap all the feels present in this story. Florentia and James are both characters that do not settle for averages. Their feelings are bloated, tumultuous, tempestuous – the kind of causes people to scream silently and rend their clothes. I love it, although I can’t guarantee that other people will feel the same.
I don’t even know how James is going to make amends to Florentia, so I don’t blame him for being the way he is. In other stories, he will be an inconsistent character, but here, his back and forth makes sense. If I were him, I’d probably do my best to minimize my damage to Florentia’s life as a means of self defense, so I can relate to how he often tries to downplay the way he changed her life for the worse. In another story, I’d see red when he tries to tell me that his own damage is as bad as that he did to Florentia. So he went off and became a spy? He’s now loaded, he’s shagged many women, and he has friends and family, while she is a social pariah. Tell me that they are in the same shoes, and I’d take those shoes and shove them down his throat. But in this story, well… like I said, I see all this as his defense mechanism kicking in. What he did to her led to some truly ugly fallout on her end, and he already loathes himself for what he has done – who knows what he’d do if he fully accepts the full damage he wrecked on her that evening.
As for Florentia, normally I’d get irritated by the way she can’t seem to make up her mind about James, but here, I think I get her. Her feelings are all jumbled up, and she is young, so she needs time to sort them out. She wants to believe in love and sweet, fluffy things, so in the end, she’s just being herself. Normally, the whole “heroine keeps turning down the hero’s proposal because she thinks he’s not proposing for the right reason” thing has been done too many times to the point of being played out, but here, I can get behind that. He deserves to stew a bit, and I also feel that she should tell him to get bent now and then – it’s a nice way to show me that she’s not going to be some infatuated dingbat who will put her beau on a pedestal.
Also, the story can be unsatisfying because the heroine gets unmasked quiet late, leaving inadequate room for the couple to work out their issues. But ah, the author’s bombastic brand of melodrama culminates in some romantic moments that make me sigh, so yes, I can forgive any inconsistency or implausibility in the story.
Therefore, in the end, my brain says that Ruined by the Reckless Viscount is an uneven read that tries too hard without fully delivering, but my heart says, look, all those feels, all those feels. I’m a jaded reader, so do you know how infrequent I come across books that tug at my heartstrings and get under my skin like this? In the end, the heart and the brain can compromise – three oogies should be a fair score, all things considered.