St Martin’s Press, $6.99, ISBN 0-312-98621-1
Historical Romance, 2004
Barbara Pierce’s Tempting the Heiress can be a little bit too dramatic for its own good, but it won’t be so bad if it also isn’t plagued with two terrible sins: a heroine who insists on making a martyr out of herself – and in this case, being a martyr could will see her being stuck in a second awful marriage (talk about sadistic tendencies!) – for naturally the most ridiculous of reasons and too many secondary characters whose function in this book is mere scenery-chewing. Other minor problems such as schizophrenic characterization of the principal characters in this book add to the already big problems in this book. The result is one trying ordeal of a book to finish.
Two years ago, our hero Brock Bedegrayne rushes to the rescue of Amara Claeg when her abusive husband starts getting medieval on her. His gallantry goes out of control, resulting in the death of the abusive jerk and the house he’s in burning straight to the ground. Brock is in love with Amara, which is why he’s being a hero, but he isn’t sure whether the lady reciprocates his feelings. He feels that it is for the best interests of everyone that he leaves for India after his adventures in pyromancy.
Today, Brock is back and intent on wooing Amara even as her parents are selling her off to yet another highest bidder, an Italian nobleman who acts suspicious and sinister. Amara at first comes off as a decent heroine as she subtly undermines her parents’ second attempt to sacrifice her in return for some money for them to put to waste. But soon Amara is pulling off the martyr act, insisting that she must never take what Brock is offering even if this means that he can save her from her fate. Her reasons for doing so – that he reminds her of the traumatic ordeal two years ago – is pretty silly considering the fact that Brock saved her at that time. Her actions never improve, culminating in her pulling off some stunts that are so, so dumb that she becomes supremely death-worthy.
Brock isn’t a prize either. The author isn’t sure whether he’s to be a gallant hero or an alpha mule so Brock alternates from being nice to treating Amara like a jerk without any rhyme or reason. But he’s not the only schizophrenic character in this book. Amara’s parents come off as either misguided or totally psychotic, depending on which chapter it is, without any in-between. Amara can be really ridiculous, especially in how long it takes for her to accept that her family isn’t worth her sacrifices, and her hot-and-cold relationship with Brock is, like nearly everything else in this book, often without rhyme or reason. One moment they are so nice together, the next scene can easily see them abruptly bickering like children.
There are many secondary characters that pop in and out, dropping hints of their future stories, but Ms Pierce would have done better focusing on this particular story instead of trying too hard to sell her future books to the reader. These characters take up precious space in a story already urgently in need of stable characters who do things out of reasonable motivations. Amara and Brock behave like the Good Holy Martyr and Her Rescuer respectively, as per the romance novel formula, but their behaviors never make sense when taken together as a whole. I don’t read this book with a checklist of “Formulaic Things Romance Heroes and Heroines Must Do in My Books” by my side like some dutiful Avon editor; instead I need to understand why the characters are doing what they are doing. And getting me to understand and subsequently care for its characters is where Tempting the Heiress fails miserably in doing so.