Bantam, $5.99, ISBN 0-553-58729-3
Historical Romance, 2004
The capable hero taking care of the virtuous heroine and saving her from the villain as well as the consequences of her many thoughtless actions – sigh. Sometimes it seems that nowadays what separates a good Regency historical from a bad one is how well the author writes, not how well she plots or how much effort she puts into making her characters come to life. While The Romantic lives up to its name when it comes to Julian Hampton, the hero, I end up wondering what he sees in the wretched heroine Penelope, the object of his one-sided infatuation.
Penelope is married to an abusive irredeemable villain solely created just to be as heinous as possible so that everybody will have a good time catering to his wishes instead of just shooting him dead because everyone is so nice and sweet today. Julian is the one who negotiated – coerced, actually – so that Pen can live apart from her deviant, perverted (oh, the glowing adjectives can go on and on) husband without having to suffer from his fiendish presence. Until now, that is, when the Pervert of Glastonbury decides that it’s time he sire an heir on his wife and Pen flees from Naples to England to ask Julian for help.
Staying in Naples, I presume, away from the Pervert of Glastonbury and ignoring her husband’s letters is a horrible idea that will never work.
Julian decides that this time, he will really need to find a really dark secret of the Pervert of Glastonbury to make him agree never to touch Pen ever again. There is also the expected “let’s pretend – oops, okay, maybe not pretend – to have an affair so that the Pervert will divorce Pen!” scheme, along with some silly half-baked suspense elements, but it doesn’t matter, really, because the coup d’grace is by the second half of the book, Pen and Julian are scrambling around to see who can be the biggest martyr of them all and I just want to scream. I have to enamored with the “virtuous” act of characters running around making martyrs out of themselves in the worst way possible without telling anybody else about their nonsense to love the second half of this book and since I don’t, I end up thinking that the Pervert of Glastonbury is the smartest dude of them all in this story.
On the other hand, Julian has been in love with Pen since he was sixteen. Letters and poetry, all dripping with droopy declaration of boyish infatuation to manly lamentations, from Julian’s pen are all here in the story for me to sigh over. But because Pen is often a heroine who often acts stupidly and she brings out the worst of martyr tendencies from Julian, I can’t help thinking that she is the worst thing to ever happen to him. Why he can’t go to Naples himself and fall for an exuberant, hot opera soprano is beyond me.
The Romantic is a standard celebration of martyrdom that is simultaneously formulaic and well-written, thus destined to please fans of Mary Balogh‘s recent romance novels. Everyone else who has better take heed of the main characters’ tendency to pull out unnecessarily melodramatic acts of self-sacrifice and proceed with caution.