Bantam, $5.99, ISBN 0-553-56522-2
Historical Romance, 1994
Betina Krahn’s Bantam debut after her move from Avon, The Last Bachelor, struck me as really funny but too sweet towards the end when I first read it back then. Now, eight years later, it’s still funny and too sweet. But while it may be a Walt Disney cartoon, it’s a good one.
I mean, this story has what seems like a gazillion dotty old ladies living with the heroine, and I still like it.
Lady Antonia Paxton is somewhat of a vigilante reformer. When she was 18, she was an orphan entrusted to the care of a careless uncle and it was only her uncle’s acquaintance Geoffrey offering her marriage that saved her from the attentions of her uncle’s nastier friends. Now a widow and knowing how vulnerable women are to the exploitation by men, she embarks on her own mission. She takes in widows, introduces them to men, and let nature takes it course. Then, she will catch them at it, act all hoity-toity and righteous, and smile as her widowed charge is headed off down the aisle. Until reforms are made by the Parliament, she decides that marriage is the best protection unskilled women could find.
Needless to say, the husbands that were her victims were not happy. They manage to rope in Remington Carr, an Earl who actually actively participates in the Parliament (good heavens, here’s a rare titled romance hero, I tell you!) and who is a misogynist that believes marriages are traps set by women for hapless men. Just look at his late father’s two mistresses that keep coming to him for money and more money! Marriages are nuisances! Let’s ship all women off to Borra Borra! He pushes actively for women’s reforms, believing that when women are free, they wouldn’t want to get married and torture the poor men of England.
So they make a deal. The Lady’s Man (Remington) will seduce the Dragon of Matrimony (Antonia) and the men will barge in and turn the tables on the Dragon, thus humiliating her in her own game. Remington agrees, sure that Antonia is some evil, scheming virago. What he doesn’t expect is a confrontation with the beautiful Dragon in a party that leads to a very public wager. For two weeks, Remington will do “women’s work”, and following that, Antonia will do two week’s worth of “men’s work”. At the end of the month, they will see who has the worst lot in Victorian England, men or women.
This wager soon catches the attention of all of England as tabloids and rags start following them and reporting and exaggerating every single title from Antonia forcing Remington to wear a corset to Antonia’s stint as a clerk in Remington’s store. Their headlines are hilarious, by the way. When things out of control, even the Queen starts to pay attention. Uh oh.
This book is hilarious, actually, Remington is hilarious. Sure, he starts off a caricature, but he soon becomes a lovable rogue who learns his lessons and eats his words so nicely. His chemistry with Antonia is amazing, and when he seduces, oh my. The snipping of buttons with a pair of scissors is never this seductive. Antonia, on the other hand, starts to annoy me the moment she starts trying to find ways to back out of her deal with Remington. Sure, she may think she has won and it is unfair for her to do “men’s work”, but let’s face it, Remington did his part like a gentleman, she bloody well do her part like a gentlewoman too. Ultimately, this book, while pushing for equality, contradicts itself by portraying Antonia as a woman and hence can’t be expected to play fair and square. Equality, huh?
Still, Antonia nonetheless is a well-written character in any other way: her mistrust and even loathing of men have grounded justification in her experiences, just as Remington has sound reasons for his bigotry. Both are know-it-alls who happen to live in a very limited way and they are talking without really knowing what they are blabbering about. This is a lesson both would learn by the end of the story.
The Last Bachelor is a fun, breezy story, an unique and entertaining take on the battle of the sexes. I have to say though, the increasingly preachy “Love is the key, love is the way to your heart” and other horribly sweet – and inane – sentiments start piling up as the story progresses, and the court case at the end is just plain awful in the amount of corn it exudes. And Cleo, the sentimental “I Love My Dead Husband and I Will Keep Telling You In Gushing Gawdawful Corny Phrases Filled With Words Like ‘Heart, Destiny, Soul’!” old coot, is pure evil, if you ask me.
Still, whatever really. This book is really fun, corn or not, and Remington is a hero to die for. Five oogies!