St Martin’s Press, $6.50, ISBN 0-312-98486-3
Historical Romance, 2003
Celeste Bradley weaves fine comedy like a virtuoso in The Impostor, but ultimately a lack of strong characterization and too much interference in the development of the relationship between the main leads weaken this book. It is in no way comparable to The Pretender, although it is an entertaining read in its own right.
Clara Simpson has a secret. She is actually the caricaturist Sir Thorogood, famed for her cutting caricatures about the excesses and hypocrisies of Ton life. Like so many authors that have tried this plot before, Ms Bradley fails to show me how Clara can be privy to gossips that can allow her to hit Society where it hurts the most. Clara doesn’t even seem to be focused on her career. Instead, she spends more time running around being a Goody-Goody Two Shoes. Hardly the kind of passionate person that satirizes society because she believes in her cause. Sir Thorogood is annoying the privileged upper class, so the Prime Minister decides to ask his charge Dalton Montmorency to find out who Sir Thorogood is. Dalton’s plan is to pose as the Sir Thorogood himself to flush the real caricaturist out. Clara plots vengeance and to do this, she will be very nice to Dalton and when he’s not expecting it, wham!
But Ms Bradley has a lot of things more to do in this book. By quarter point into the book, Clara and Dalton aren’t even properly acquainted yet because the author is more keen on dazzling me with scenes of Dalton running around being a spy that runs around a lot and Clara a woman that runs around a lot too helping oppressed maids and more. And of course, don’t forget the sequel bait, James Cunnington, because apparently his taking up space here is very important or else Ms Bradley will miss out on my future $6.50 and we can’t have that. Who cares about characterization and decent romance? Here, let Ms Bradley spoon feed me some James, more James, do I like, yum, yum, yum, if I want more, buy the next book, et cetera. The author also wants to dazzle me with her admittedly funny scenes where Clara and Dalton spar and taunt and try to outwit each other.
Which will be fine if I’m sure who Dalton and Clara are at the end of the day. Clara, especially, is a mess – she runs in all directions as a bluestocking and satirist and doormat and goody-goody reformer that I have no idea how she goes about without developing multiple personalities. Her behavior at a pivotal point of the story will make no sense at all if she is a well-written, consistent character. But because Clara is a loosely-tangled skein of Regency-era heroine clichés, I just shrug it off as another clichéd behavior from an already stereotypical heroine – a badly drawn stereotypical heroine at that. Dalton fares better because, being a man, he doesn’t have to impress me with his virtue and selflessness, but he’s still a vague character. Because the author has them doing things to make me laugh and impress me rather than to sell me their romance, I’m still not sure whether these two people are in love or they are just dazzled by each other’s wit. Because, after all, these are supposed to be so witty and so funny people.
They are. But they are also weakly drawn characters trapped in a plot that is often way too busy for its own good.
Is this book good? Well, it’s very entertaining and it has me laughing out loud so many times, so that’s good in one sense, I guess. The weaknesses in plot and characters are also too glaring to be overlooked this time, preventing me from enjoying this book as much as I enjoyed The Pretender. I only hope that the author tones down the sequel baiting and concentrates more on her characters rather than to hit me in the head non-stop with relentless funnies. Funny is good, but funny without any substantial underlying foundation to the story is like a delicious meal that doesn’t quite fill me up at the end of the day.