Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-238945-9
Historical Romance, 2017
Seven Minutes in Heaven has nothing to do with Eloisa James’s previous full-length story My American Duchess. But don’t sigh in relief yet. Are you ready? The hero, Edward Reeve, is the kid from Desperate Duchesses all grown up, and the back story of him and his step-siblings are intrinsically linked to the books in the author’s Desperate Duchesses series. Ward also played a role in Four Nights with the Duke, and the drama leading up to him getting thrown into jail in that book will be brought up quite a bit here. The heroine, Eugenia Snowe, is the young girl from Duchess by Night now all grown up. While her back story is nowhere as convoluted to warrant reams of exposition, she is a cog in the author’s grand meta, and trust me, this book is very meta. This meta state is a significant reason that affects my enjoyment of this book, but I’ll get into that later.
So, Edward Reeve. I’ll give his story here in its most simplified form, mostly because I confess I can’t remember much of the details myself. Hey, don’t look at me like that. Those books came out ages ago, alright? Anyway, Ward’s mother wasn’t the most stable person around. In modern times, she may find some sympathetic psychiatrist who would help her feel better, but back in those days, she’s on her own. She ran off with a boy – the fifteen-year old Lord Darcy – and the two of them vanished into the world of the theater.
It was probably true love, as Lord Darcy remained with Lisette Elys until his death, from all accounts content to manage the stage curtains and teaching his children to read Latin and recite lines from plays. Without Darcy’s stabilizing influence, however, Lisette falls into a downward spiral of unhealthy sexual behavior and what not, and upon her own death, her two children are deposited on Ward’s doorsteps. Otis, eight, and Lizzie, nine are not the most well-adjusted children. Because Darcy and Lisette married at Gretna Green, Otis is now the heir to a title and the holdings that come with it. The poor boy is now caught in a custody dispute between Ward and his grandmother. There is no love lost between our hero and his granny because he is an illegitimate child and… well, the entire family is one big vortex of crazy, let’s just say.
Ward is a well-adjusted fellow with no angst at all. He may be a bastard, but he has money and the author loves to claim that, with all his money, his illegitimacy is not much of an issue at all. Why, he’s practically legitimate! I have to admit, while money can certainly do a lot of wonderful things for a person, this line of reasoning feels dreadfully like a cop-out to me. It’s like Lisa Kleypas being touted to have broken new grounds writing about non-titled heroes when these guys have so much money and are BFFs with noble dudes that they are practically indistinguishable from titled heroes. Why bother then to write such so-called “non-titled heroes” or “bastard heroes” when the lack of title and pedigree is only cosmetic in nature?
Anyway, Ward has resigned from Oxford and is more than willing to commit his time and energy to be a good guardian to his two step-siblings. But they have driven off the governesses he hired for them, including one from the famed Snowe’s Registry Office for Select Governesses, so he decides that a face-to-face chat with the owner, to clarify his wards’ needs and what not, will hopefully go some way in solving the governess dilemma.
Eugenia grew up in an unorthodox household, and only knew some semblance of normalcy when her father found love in Duchess by Night. Today, she is a widow who chooses to take control of her own life by opening up a business and establishing her own financial stability. Besides, such work is wonderfully normal, and Eugenia likes normalcy. Ward, despite his Oxford ties, is not even close to being a stereotypical nerd hero. He is a disrupting presence, causing her hormones to go wild, and she is sure that he is not something she needs in her life. Her heart and loins beg to differ, naturally.
As you can see, this is basically another “The Hot Governess Comes to the Rescue!” story, only my synopsis is super long because of the main characters’ ties to so many previous characters from previous books. A part of me thinks that the whole meta nature of this story is unnecessary, as the story would certainly work just as well if Ward and Eugenia are fresh characters starting on a clean slate with no baggage carried forth from previous books. But the author would have to do more work. In this one, all the characters’ ties to the large cast of previous books are part of the plot – all the powerful heroes from previous books come together to push Ward’s case to gain custody of Otis, and therefore, there is effectively zero suspense whatsoever when it comes to that subplot. All the dukes and what nots combined to go against a bitter old biddy – I actually feel embarrassed to follow the whole thing because it’s a horribly lopsided “fight”. And I use the word “fight” loosely because a fight would indicate that both parties have a chance at winning, when this is clearly not the case.
Therefore, Seven Minutes in Heaven is not only meta, its meta nature serves as a means for the author to make huge short cuts and take easy ways out. Ward is a bastard? He has powerful parents and friends, so he’s accepted everywhere and anywhere despite everyone knowing that his parents weren’t married when daddy knocked mommy up. Issues surrounding Otis and Lizzie possibly having a hard time fitting in with Society? Big Brother is the most powerful bastard in the world – or so it seems – and he and Sis-in-Law have all the connections necessary to ensure that these two kids will be pampered and have everything handed to them in pure British meritocracy style. Seriously, this is one story where every problem is solved by the fact that Ward and Eugenia are loaded like crazy – Eugenia is one of the wealthiest women in England – and they all have powerful connections with every duke and earl in town.
It’s probably a good thing then that the romance is easily the best thing here for the most part. Eugenia is one of those rare widows that loved and had good times in bed with her late husband. No contrived sex issues, and no last-minute “Now that I have a new boyfriend, I suddenly remember that my late husband had a tiny penis, was crap in bed, and cheated on me with my best friend!” nonsense. Oh, and her hormones are in working order, so she has no problems recognizing how hot Ward is – especially those thighs; she’s always been partial to well-formed thighs on a man – and how he is making her feel like a silly girl again. As for Ward, he is adorable, a nice balance of naughty roguishness and charming gallantry. His devotion to his step-siblings are added icing on the cake, and these two have explosive chemistry together. I can just read about these two just doing things all day long.
But even then, the author includes some ridiculous late conflict that turns both of them into unexpected imbeciles. Their IQs regress to prepubescent levels as they suddenly assume that the other person hates them now, and the drama just goes on and on because both sides are too stubborn to talk and listen. Sure, love can make people act like fools, but these two do such a complete 180 that they seem like completely different characters altogether.
Oh, and the children. Oh god, Lizzie. This girl is nine, but there is no difference in how she and other adult characters talk, hence we have yet another creepy midget ghoul walking around pretending to be wounded doe of a child. Meanwhile, Otis feels like a real boy his age, and I won’t mind at all if the author does a kiddie book spin-off of his adventures with Marmaduke while they are at Eton. But Lizzie is too much like the author’s voice piece – that nine-year old girl actually points out to Edward that her brother is hoarding money because he is afraid of being abandoned again… a nine-year old girl – like a stumpy plot device plopped into the story just to drive home heavy-handed messages that the author believes that I would otherwise miss. Yet, the author manages to get me to like Lizzie despite how fake everything is about that stumpy plot device. Then again, I think we have established by now that Eloisa James can be a very sneaky author on a good day.
In the end, Seven Minutes in Heaven is an uneven read that is quite all over the place. The romance is good when things are going swimmingly, but the payoff is terrible because the author has them acting out of character when conflict arises. Also, much about the story is just lazy, as subplots are resolved simply by the author sweeping aside all potential complications with the reasoning that her main characters are just simply too awesome to be constrained by societal norms of those days. I love parts of it, just as I loathe the other parts, so I suppose it’s fair to call this a three-oogie read.