Signet Eclipse, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-451-41799-2
Historical Romance, 2013
Three years ago, our hero Ian Blake and his BFF Hamilton left for India to shoot the natives in the name of all that is good and holy. Hamilton died, so Ian finally comes home feeling as blue as Grover the Muppet. He has failed Hamilton, Hamilton’s widow Eva Carin, their family dog, Mufasa and Simba, Timon and Pumbaa, and the Teletubbies.
When he learns that, during his absence, Eva lost her son and is now incarcerated in a madhouse, he just has to rescue her – with guns blazing and all. Alas, she is now a laudanum addict, and while Ian doesn’t hesitate to paw her and more, he keeps moaning and whining that he shouldn’t touch her. Can Eva – you know, the one who lost her son and her husband before spending the next three years being beaten and all in a nuthouse – pull herself together and comfort this big baby?
Máire Claremont’s debut full-length effort The Dark Lady is interesting, I’d give the author that, but I find that it is high in melodrama but low in everything else. As I’ve mentioned, there is a bizarre feeling to seeing Eva, the one who suffered the most in the story, having to comfort and convince Ian that he is worthy of her love. This only makes Ian a bigger baby than he already is, and really now, he is a big baby. He’s always moping and whining, which wouldn’t be so bad if all his bluster wasn’t just lip service. This is the guy who moans that he shouldn’t shag Eva even as he’s happily examining her happy places.
He’s also inconsistent. He tells Eva that she can’t blame herself for her son’s death when he blames himself for her husband’s death, her time in the mad house, his leaving her back then out of a sense of duty (long story, just think: Bollywood movie), and her son’s death. And she has more valid reasons to blame herself for her son’s death than he does!
Ultimately, Ian is just one big crybaby who is only good for providing firepower when Eva needs some back-up. I am almost tempted to say that he’s good for some bedtime TLC too, but seeing that guy’s Eeyore impersonation the morning after is the ultimate mood kill.
Eva isn’t bad at all. Sure, she starts out as a damsel in distress before progressing to being a laudanum addict and guilt-ridden heroine, but she can be resourceful when she gets her act together. Also, she doesn’t play that boring self-pity song like Ian – when she blames herself for this and that, I get the feeling that she is holding herself accountable instead of grasping at straws to play the melodramatic frowning pee-pee like Ian.
As for the rest of the story, oh, this one would be amazing if the author hadn’t, for some reason, turned every villain into a parade of cackling insane ham. There are three villains here – don’t worry, this isn’t a spoiler as it’s made pretty clear early on who the bad guys are – the heroine’s brother-in-law, the woman running the mad house, and Hamilton. The crazy woman doesn’t play a big part in this story, so her crazed scheming is pretty much scenery chewing. I don’t know why the author bothers with this, unless it’s some kind of “See what the crazy lunatic does next!” bait to get me to read the next book. Hamilton – now, that is the biggest waste of all.
The story would be incredible if Hamilton had been a more realistic person with both virtues and flaws. Then, Ian’s guilt over his feelings for Eva may make more sense in a “torn between duty and heart” way, and his past actions wouldn’t have this annoying “bros before hos” feel to them. His friendship with Hamilton would make more sense too. As it is, Ian doesn’t seem too bright as he’s torn up over a crazed, racist, violent, bitterly jealous, horse-killing nutcase who isn’t even good in bed if Eva is to be believed. The funniest thing here is Eva telling Ian that Hamilton is a flawed person (she doesn’t know the true extent of Hamilton’s bunny boiling ways), when the author at the same time seems to operate under the assumption that somehow Ian and Eva won’t have a “real” love unless the dead other guy is completely demonized to unrealistic degrees.
And then there are the last few chapters, which are so sickeningly sweet and simply atrocious in a “violated by crazed Care Bears” way. The author goes through some unbelievable lengths to restore Eva not just to normal but to restore her life to the way it was before the great tragedy. It’s just too much and too unrealistic.
At the end of the day, The Dark Lady has a plot that isn’t the standard formulaic brotherhood of spies stuff like many historical romance series are these days. But it still suffers from an uneven hand when it comes to plotting and characterization, and my god, the ending is just too ridiculous for words. I’d probably take a look at the author’s next effort, but this one is all over the place too much for its own good.