Pocket, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4767-0364-0
Historical Romance, 2014
Jane Feather finally comes back to the time period that spawned some of her most successful stories in her career – 17th century England, a more dangerous time indeed – with Trapped at the Altar, which is the start of a new series. By the time I read this book, I’ve already heard many rumbles that this book breaks many of the rules of the romance genre, and oh yes, now I can see why.
In Somerset, Ariadne Daunt’s grandfather was a politically influential person – was, because the man passed away before this story opens. Lord Daunt wanted Ariadne to marry Ivor Chalfont, who as a boy was sent to live with her people as a peace offering from his people. Ivor and Ari joined in holy matrimony would mean peace between the warring clans and, more importantly, consolidation of both numbers and political influence to counter any fallout from James – a Catholic – taking over the English throne from the ailing Charles II, a Protestant. So, Lord Daunt did what every doting grandfather would do in his time – he ordered the marriage to take place.
The trouble is, Ari believes that she is destined to be with her lover, the Englishman Gabriel Fawcett. Worse, because she grew up with Ivor and they had a pretty close relationship, she confided in him a while back about Gabriel. Things become awkward, let’s just say, when we have a bride who wants to be with another man, married to a man who knows that she wants that other man. She believes that she and Ivor can still have something decent based on friendship and trust, but Ivor wants more. He can force her to be his wife in every way, but is that the way to win her heart?
Trapped at the Altar is actually a story with a very interesting premise, as we have an alpha male who nonetheless finds himself treading carefully because he knows that he can lose her forever if he pushes her too hard. And yet, she pushes him a lot, to the point that I know she will one day push too far, and I find myself looking forward to and dreading that inevitable explosion.
The author breaks many rules here especially when it comes to the heroine. Many times, Ari hoards secrets and does things that make me cringe because I know it would only make her look horrible in her husband’s eyes. But I’m fine with this, actually, because the author creates a pretty believable heroine in Ari. She’s a somewhat spoiled and very spirited girl, and her marriage is basically a cattle prod at her rear end that forces her to grow up and face the consequences of her antics. She does, and I think she becomes more mature by the end, so that’s definitely alright with me.
Ivor is a stock alpha character, except that he lacks the cruelty that I normally associates with the author’s more infamous heroes of the past, and he mostly reacts to Ari in this book. As a character in his own right, he’s not so memorable. Ari is the star of this story, and it is her feelings that shift and change in this story. Sure, he has power over her as he is her husband, but he wants her love, only he doesn’t express that quite right, heh.
The problem is that, taking aside Ari, the romance is actually conventional. Okay, maybe not that conventional, but the dynamics between Ari and Ivor soon settle into a familiar and even predictable pattern, and I can’t help feeling that there is plenty of wasted potential as a result. Then again, I know something is up the moment Ari compares the size of Ivor’s bat to Gabriel’s and Ivor apparently wins that contest by a mile. Gabriel just disappears for the most part of the middle sections of the book, and basically Ari decides that she’d rather be with Ivor. Sorry, Gabriel. Gabriel ends up being the other guy – not the predictable villain, fortunately, just a sad loser who only retains a little bit of dignity, mostly because Ari admits that she has been unfair to him.
The romance between these two is surprisingly dry, and as a result, I never get this feeling that there is any grand passion between them. The supposedly dramatic explosion at the climax of this story, as a result, feels muted to me. I’m more interested in analyzing the power dynamics in the relationship, and even that interest fizzles out when the author takes some short cuts and has the relationship follow a predictable and almost formulaic path. And after all that exciting rule-breaking start too, sigh.
Perhaps I’m expecting too much from this book because I was piqued by the author’s cheery breaking of all the rules when it comes to the romance heroine’s chastity, behavior pattern, and what not. It’s a shame that this book never delivers the passion and complexity that I expected to get – the same ones that the author had delivered in some of her previous books that never had to break this many rules, heh. Still, I’m tossing an extra oogie into the final rating because I respect the fact that the author is trying to do something different here. She doesn’t quite succeed, but I can live with the results, so I believe we’re all good.