Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-7399-2
Historical Romance, 2002
She may have made her debut in the erotic anthology Delighted, but Liz Madison’s first big time full-length book Season of Splendor isn’t a scorcher. Instead, it’s an old-school style book featuring the star-crossed romance of a high-class woman and a genuine lower-class London guy. The good thing about this book that it isn’t exactly a typical “healer countrified bluestocking” Regency-era romance novel. The downside is the old school feel and the execution of the story.
On her own, Claire Rushmoor is one of the painfully trite “good girl” heroines romance readers apparently love (or else why do these creatures keep popping up again and again like a severe case of acne?). Saintly, angelic, with hair reminiscent of waterfall (or so the author tells me), beautiful, holding out for love, hates parties, doesn’t like her mother’s severe matchmaking efforts, weeps at precious moments and tales of grand passion, and oh yeah, did I mention holding out for love? In this book – in so many books like this one – aristocratic men of the Ton are either boring (those over 25) or dandified (25 and under) – eeuw. So she sleeps with the footman.
There has to be a punchline in there somewhere.
Devon Blake is the son of a prostitute (don’t worry, a secret duke daddy never shows up in the end) and he is also a thief. He and Claire’s path crosses when Claire’s cousin Lilia runs off at night to visit the seedier areas of town. Claire saves Lilia in time from the usual nonsense a dumb girl will get into in that kind of place, but not before Devon’s friend Joshua gets fatally injured in the process. Devon and gang arrive too late, and the only clue to what happened to Joshua lies in a button and the family insignia on Claire’s carriage.
Somehow Devon traces the insignia to Claire’s family, and he gets hired as a footman. The reason is so that he can ask her about the incident. Meanwhile, Joshua dies. Ouch. Devon and Claire fall in love. Oops. Claire has a nasty beau. Class, can we guess who’s the one that did Joshua bad?
The execution of Season of Splendor won’t be winning prizes for originality any time soon. Claire starts off a promising heroine: a prim and proper lady who suppresses her romantic ideals because they scare her. But as the story progresses, Claire becomes a one-dimensional Mary Sue who just cannot see Devon doing anything wrong. Seriously. She becomes a martyr, all patience and willingness to be abandoned and left to suffer, and all forgiving and relieved when he comes back with not even his tail between his legs. In fact, toss forgiveness, he doesn’t even have to show it. Because she understands.
Yes, there’s a very annoyed separation towards the end of this story, ignited by his stubborn headed pride and fueled by her willingness to lay down and let him walk all over her.
I also don’t understand what Devon is doing, to be honest. Joshua is sick and needs to see a doctor – doctor that they can’t afford. Then Devon is earning lots of money as the stable hand-turned-footman in the Rushmoor house, but somehow they still can’t get a doctor. He can pay money for fake references and all, but he can’t pay a doctor. He is a thief who is an experienced housebreaker, but his very idea of subterfuge is to sneak a way to talk to Claire and then paw her. He spends almost all his time pawing and heavy petting with Claire and then ranting about the evils of rich people, no wonder Joshua dies. He’s just another agenda on Devon’s stupid macho act.
This book also offers much amusing irony, as even as Devon keeps telling me about how he hates all rich people except for Claire (whom he says proves him wrong), Claire is telling me that she loves Devon because he accepts everyone as equal, unlike her suitor who thinks all poor people are trash. The irony is lost on Ms Madison, unfortunately. Also, it is most hilarious that after all that talk about the hypocrisy of rich people, it doesn’t take much – just one magnanimous gesture from Claire that saves his sorry ass – for him to reverse his opinions of her and tar her in the same way he tars all rich people. His mother, the Tart with the Heart of Gold (Ms Madison tells me – solemnly – that after Devon was born, the boy made Mommy so happy that she threw herself to servicing her clients with abandon – wow), has to be there to guide Lil’ Boy here all the way to his epiphany. Then again – every woman in this story from Mommy to Claire pampers him shamelessly. They deserve to spend the rest of their lives washing his diapers if you ask me.
Season of Splendor takes a rarely used premise, but it runs the premise to the ground with its shoddy characterization, contrived conflicts, and irony-free use of double standards. Still, there are moments here and there that have me believing that Liz Madison may have some surprises up her sleeves in the future. An author who isn’t afraid to have a commoner hero will probably have a few interesting plots and concepts up her sleeves – providing she gets to execute them well, that is. So I’ll put aside this book for now and wait for the author’s next one.