Avon, $6.99, ISBN 0-06-009129-0
Historical Romance, 2004
Secrets of a Summer Night is the start of a new series from Lisa Kleypas. As per the author’s last few books, this one has a hero who is not of noble birth. Then again, this hero also has to be the most wealthy, most virile, most good-looking dude with the mostest that the only thing that’s missing is a title. This story has our noble heroine not wanting to consider this dude with the mostest as a potential hubby even as she is attracted to him and the bills need to be paid. On his part, he wants her to be his mistress and he is willing to wait until she’s desperate enough to take him on as a protector.
It’s a conflict that will be riveting if there is an actual conflict rather than the heroine’s willingness to go great – and bizarre – lengths to carry out outlandish plans because marrying such a wealthy and good-looking (and well-educated and well-behaved) man who is also hygienic is unthinkable, just as becoming his mistress is unthinkable. For me, this lack of pragmatism on the heroine’s part has me rolling up my eyes more than once.
Annabelle Peyton, stuck with a list of typical Regency era heroine dilemmas, wants the world and the moon. Her brother has to finish his expensive education, her mother has to be spared from doing her share of contributing to the family piggy bank, she has to marry a peer (even when she has no dowry) – she has to have these things, I suppose, and she has to be the one to do everything because she’s so noble that way. At the same time she has to remain a proper woman with a good reputation so she will not do anything less than noble to solve her problems. She will not entertain the prospects of our hero Simon Hunt, the son of a butcher who has done so well that he is allowed to mingle freely with the Ton. No, she will team up instead with three equally misguided women (self-professed wallflowers who will be getting their books soon, fa-la-la) and trap gentlemen into compromising situations so that these gentlemen will be forced to marry them.
Oh, these adorable minxes! I can always trust them to do something stupid when they are left to their own devices.
Not that I am saying that Simon is some misguided poor suitor. His determination to have Annabelle by crook if not by nook has a rather unsavory undertone to it as he is basically a wealthy man waiting for the heroine to be in so desperate straits that she will have no choice but to become his mistress (he will be generous to her, of course). It is probably faster if he befriends her brother, takes him to some gambling dens, and pauper the brother so much that the heroine can’t wait to fling herself to his mercy but at least he has patience to commend him, I guess. The thing is, I can respect a hero for being a cold-hearted bastard but I can’t respect his continuous infatuation with Annabelle who treats him no better than a dead fly stuck on her cheek.
Because the heroine is obviously in the wrong (as she should respect people of all statures, blah blah blah), this book is positively boring because the predictable moral epiphany where Annabelle will come to respect all people et cetera is just a matter of time in coming. In the meantime, half the book is a tedious and deadly dull set-up to this epiphany and the second half is an equally dull read where Annabelle works to compensate for her behavior in the first half of the book. The transition from Selfish Shallow Annabelle to Hopelessly Determined to Make You Love Her Annabelle is abrupt and unsatisfying but equally unsatisfying is Simon’s character, which is a cop-out.
Here we have a hero who is everything but a nobleman. He has a nobleman’s access to Society, he has the money, he has the influence and the important powerful connections, so what exactly is the problem here? That’s the main issue that this story doesn’t address – what exactly is the problem? The issue of class difference is quickly swept under the carpet for romanticized messages of equality and respect when the author has no more use for such issue so at the end of the day, the plot can be summed up as this: Annabelle is a twit who needs a few hundred pages to come to her senses, and even then, I’m not sure if she really has come to her senses.
There may be a few nicely-written romantic scenes here or there but everything about this book, from the conflict to the characters, feels like some ill-fleshed plot contrivances clumsily mixed together to give this story. I would feel differently if there is a more concrete reason as to why Simon (maybe he is already married or something, heh?) is an unacceptable hero but the conflict here stems too much from silly Annabelle’s snobbery. Secrets of a Summer Night is a story of a heroine who doesn’t know how to be pragmatic and has no workable plan in her head stumbling and bumbling around until she realizes that she is wrong and then spends the remaining of the story making sure that I know she is wrong and she feels bad about it. This story is like a very simplistic moralistic story about why snobbery is bad. And frankly, I feel that I am too old and jaded to muster much patience for this kind of stories.