Signet, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-20807-2
Historical Romance, 2003
If we have a line of traumatized virgin martyrs in white robes screeching Un Bel Di Vedremo before each plunging in unison the Blade of Cleansing Purity right into her heart, it can’t be more melodramatic than Jo Beverley’s latest Ode to Daddy La-La-I-Love-You Martyrdom. If you’re a die-hard Jo Beverley fan, you’ll be familiar with this book: a heroine who takes it onto herself to save the world while not knowing at all what this entails and an always bemused hero to guide our heroine through the traumas of growing up.
Cressida Mendeville is a heroine that will only be considered “spirited, intelligent, and willful” in romance novels like this sort. Her father has lost everything to the unpleasant Lord Crofton and now the useless fool is acting like a feeble idiot at home. Naturally, it is up to Crappula here to save the day. To do this, she agrees to be Crofton’s mistress of the week. Not that she will really whore herself for Daddy, Housey, and True Love everywhere, she will play a Great Trick on Crofton and then hunt around the house for Daddy’s stash of jewels. With these jewels, she proceed to rebuild her family fortune and all those people who ditch her family when they are now poor will love them again, right? Right? Gee, is that cricket chirping I hear?
Did I mention that our heroine is going to be sneaking around alone at the site where an unrestrained orgy is going to take place?
I wonder what happens if her plan succeeds and Daddy Dearest then gambles and loses everything to the next Captain Shark that comes around. It is surely an event for England’s Finest Accident Home Videos.
Unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on how you like your romance heroines to act – the coach where Crofton and she are in is stopped by Tristan Tregallows, our Duke of St Raven. St Raven is posing as a French highwayman, but he ends up accompanying Crappula to the orgy so that she can find her money and save everybody. St Raven, always one to care for stray cats, soon decide that he must have this woman to be his wife forever and ever. Crappula proceeds to bring on the predictable angst.
For a story set in a house where there is an act of copulation going on in every corner, St. Raven is surprisingly lifeless and dull. It’s a Regency thing, perhaps, a thing where orgies and pumpies are used as propaganda for the Virtuous Agenda. In this case, the heroine is pure, seeking for true love, a beacon of holiness and virtue, of course she is the one for the hero. Unfortunately, Crappula is just one trip away from being a cracked-open skull nutcase.
She has no sense of survival and her priorities are all the pits. When the hero suggests that he accompanies her to the Orgy Ordeal to look over her, she protests that he is too experienced to reassure her that she is safe with him. As opposed to being alone with Crofton, I guess? She just doesn’t know how to lay low at all. She would have shrieked and defended the not-too-unwilling harlots from being manhandled by brutish lust-maddened men in a fit of deluded righteousness if St Raven hasn’t stopped her. Yet when it is right for her to open her big mouth and stand up for herself, she doesn’t. She lets her father step all over her even as she risks life and limb to erase his mistakes, and even when her father takes her for granted one last time, she lets him get away with it. This provides one final (tedious) “St Raven doesn’t love me, I must flee forever!” conflict, but it is at the cost of the final chance Crappula has to redeem herself.
Then again, I never claim to understand “moral” as defined by books like these, where apparently standing up for oneself and telling the stupid Daddy to pull his own socks together are sins so “selfish” that one must feel guilty forever for even considering it. If you understand this “morality”, hey, let St. Raven take you flying. Personally, I wish this book has been badly written so that I can dismiss it as a bad miscalculation in the author’s part. But it’s pretty readable, albeit readable if one can overlook the heroine’s characterization being broken beyond repair. As a result, this book comes off even worse: it rewards stupidity motivated by subservience to male authority figures. Give me a break.