Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-380-77617-0
Historical Romance, 1998
The Last Hellion is a lot of fun. This book has me in stitches so many times. But can I in all honesty call this book a keeper? I do keep this book and it’s one of my favorite comfort reads, but at the same time, I recognize that this book suffers from several glaring flaws, among them a truly tedious second half filled with contrivances, lack of character continuity, and some forced “goodifying” of characters that don’t ring true. I can’t help thinking that I’m reading simply an even more over-the-top retread of the related previous book by this author, Lord of Scoundrels.
The last hellion is question is Vere Mallory, the latest Duke of Ainswood. He’s a rake of all rakes, he doesn’t consort with genteel ladies, only prostitutes – in short, he’s exactly like the the Marquess of Dain of the previous book, only without the poignant backstory or the self-esteem problems that make Dain a little bit sympathetic. The author tries to make him a little angst-ridden: he’s still heartbroken by the death of the previous Duke, a young nephew that he befriended a year before the boy died. Our heroine is Lydia Grenville, a tall, Amazonian virago of a reporter who makes many die-hard denizens of the Seven Dials cower when she and her huge mastiff Susan charge by as Lydia looks for righteous crusades to write about for the newspaper Argus. Unknown to many of the Ton that view Lydia at best someone beneath their notice or at worst a radical crap-stirrer, Lydia also writes the adventure series that have them all buying every edition of Argus the moment it hits the stands.
Lydia and Vere encounter each other when he stumbles upon her trying to save a young woman from the clutches of Coralie Brees, a nasty madame. Vere, being the gallant man that he is, tries to break the fight, in the process insulting womankind and earning him a punch from Lydia that sends him sprawled on his back on the ground. Love manages to penetrate his thick skull, although he isn’t aware of that yet, and when he just keeps stumbling on Lydia in her adventures (sometimes intentionally, sometimes by serendipity), sexual attraction sizzles between them.
Vere and Lydia’s adventures are the best about this story. They are laugh-out-loud funny so often and Lydia gives back as good as she gets when it comes to push and shove. It helps that Lydia can often be too reckless and too impulsive but she can damn well take care of herself. It is enjoyable to follow Vere’s befuddled train of thought as he becomes more and more confused by his attraction to Lydia. He thinks he’s in charge, he insists that he’s in charge, but the truth is, he’s being led all over the place by Lydia!
It is hard not to keep comparing this book to Lord of Scoundrels because Vere is an over-the-top version of Dain just as Lydia is a more aggressive, more impulsive, and more pushy version of Jessica Trent. While Dain proposes to Lydia after she shoots him, here Lydia correctly guesses that Vere is jealous when Lydia harrasses other lowlife males in her quest for righteousness and he wants her to harrass and even punch only him. Structurally, this book is also very similar to Lord of Scoundrels: the first half is an antagonistic courtship with heavy sexual tension sizzling between the two antagonists, while the second half will see the heroine fixing the hero’s life so that the hero can be one big happy family man again. A villain will threaten the hero’s loved one. The hero will realize just how much family means to him after everything is said and done. While in Lord of Scoundrels Dain’s kid is in trouble, here two nieces of Vere are in trouble.
There are so many things in this book that don’t make sense. Lydia wants to keep her family ties to Dain a secret. Her reasons for doing so are ridiculously lame. Ditto her reasons for risking her life to get back the heirlooms of the young lady she’s rescued – lame, lame, lame. Dain makes an appearance in this book and I cringe at how much the author has turned Dain into an unrealistic know-it-all. Dain sounds like a barrister here – what happened? Why would Vere consider Dain his trusted friend when they barely meet and are only briefly reacquainted since Dain’s wedding? Then there’s Bertie Trent who has somehow mutated from an irresponsible nitwit in the last book into a harmless simpleton here. Did Dain hit him too hard in the head sometime after Lord of Scoundrels?
This book is also laden with many annoying plot contrivances, the biggest one being a really lame reason why Vere doesn’t want to consummate his marriage to Lydia. Ms Chase can’t pull off that one well; she makes me grit my teeth in annoyance at Vere’s sudden change of heart. The next biggest contrivance is Lydia getting a brand new history by the last page of this book, an unnecessary twist serving only to add to the sugar content of the story. Maybe Vere is the biggest contrivance of them all. The author tries to redeem him in often clumsy ways, including her bizarre reasoning that Vere is more “honest” than everyone else because he is openly skanky whereas other people would sin in secret. It is entirely possible that people disapprove of Vere because Vere is a slutty jackass, surely? Or that people who disapprove of him may not be necessarily hypocrites?
I don’t know. I really enjoy this book because Lydia and Vere make one fun couple. But at the same time, I find the story too choppy and for the most part lacking direction or focus. Vere’s epiphany is clumsily dealt with in a rushed and often too sentimental manner. There are many things here that would not work with me if Loretta Chase isn’t so good at what she does and her main characters don’t jump off the page with their lively and boisterous interaction with each other.
Thus I’m quite conflicted. At the end of the day I want so much to give this book a keeper grade because I adore Vere and Lydia in the first half of the story. Yet I just can’t because as much as I enjoy this book, it is still a watered-down retread of Lord of Scoundrels with very little of the character development and emotional punch that made the latter so enjoyable. The Last Hellion is very enjoyable indeed, but it is more like an enjoyable appetizer that leaves me craving for something more substantial to follow.