Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-228395-5
Historical Romance, 2016
I have not read a book by Elizabeth Boyle in ages, ever since I decided to impose an Avon romance novel ban on myself – all that formulaic 19th-century England romps were starting to get to me. Well, now that I’m dipping my toes back in that pool, I’m pleased to say that The Knave of Hearts can stand alone, as I can keep up just fine despite my having never read any previous books in the Rhymes with Love series. Interestingly enough, this is definitely a book by the author: back then, I felt that she had a tendency to write tropes rather than stories, and she also was quite fond of filling the kitchen sink of a story to the point of overflowing. Now, I feel the same still. Cookies for consistency, I guess?
The title of the book is accurate, for once: Alaster “Tuck” Rowland is indeed a bit of a knave. He has no discernible ambition in life other than to imbibe, gamble, and fornicate. In this story, he feels compelled to defend Lavinia Tempest from the members of society who tear into her, and, just like Tuck, the whole thing ends up as a wager in which he must turn her into a popular chick by the end of two weeks – and win enough money to pay off his current debts – or lose big. The Tempest sisters don’t make it easy for him, though. Their mother dumped them to run off with a lover, much to Society’s scandalized delight, and Lavinia keeps doing all these little social faux pas things despite her best efforts to remember the rules of Society. As a result, she, her sister, and their guardian – Tuck’s uncle – are practically given the cut by Tuck’s peers. Tuck tries his best, and I’m sure we can all tell what will happen to Tuck and Lavinia. Oh, what will happen when she discovers the fact that he’s in this for a wager?
Of course, I’m sure you won’t be shocked to learn that she finds out right after the necessary orifices in her body have first-hand familiarity with Tuck’s digits and humpy stick, or that she learns it from the bad guy himself. If you are shocked, hello there, new reader, do you picture Zayn Malik as the guy who will play Tuck in the movie version of this story?
The story by itself isn’t bad, although the author follows tropes so faithfully that she spins them into clichés – perfect for readers who want exactly zero element of the unexpected in their books. Alaster and Lavinia are pretty fun together, and under other circumstances, I would say that this is the textbook example of an average read: it’s not bad at all, as it can be entertaining at places with the two main characters feeling right for one another and all, but give a few days, and I’d be hard pressed to remember much about it. Except how nice it is to look at the cover, perhaps.
But there’s one nagging doubt that I have about this book: Tuck. He drinks far too frequently here for my liking, and even at the dramatic moment when Lavinia is like “You, your fingers, your pee-pee – THE ORGASMS AND THE LOVE ARE ALL A LIE!” at him, his first action is to hit town and drink himself into a stupor. He is always drinking and claiming to be drunk enough not to remember anything. Factor in that along with his tendency to mess up at being responsible or his complete lack of stability in his life, and I find myself thinking that Tuck is a better friend with benefits than a husband, and even then, I’d probably need to have a high tolerance for gin breath or something each time he gets randy and wants a hump. I don’t believe that he’s mellowed enough by the last page to be anyone’s husband, so the happy ending has me giving the two main characters an “Are you kidding me?” kind of side glance.
Still, that’s probably just me. Everything else about The Knave of Hearts is inoffensively pleasant, pleasantly predictable, and predictably forgettable, so it’s that kind of book that one can read, smile pleasantly, and move on without a backward glance. The romance hinges on how much you buy Tuck’s “reformation”, however, so I guess his meat would be some readers’ poison. Wait, that comes out wrong, but I’m sure you know what I mean.