Avon Impulse, $3.99, ISBN 978-0-06-249688-1
Historical Romance, 2017
When the Marquess Falls is both a prequel and epilogue to the author’s Hellions of Havisham series. It is released as a short story because the couple here – George William St John, the Marquess of Marsden, and Madeline “Linnie” Connor – were rudely separated before that series started when Linnie died after delivering Killian, their brat that goes on to star in The Viscount and the Vixen. Marsden was the “Mad Marquess” in that series, acting all bizarre and eccentric to his son and his wards while constantly claiming to be haunted by Linnie’s ghost. So yes, this is how Marsden and Linnie meet and fall in love. And yes, there is a predictable happy ending of sorts – hence this story also being an epilogue to the series. Think of the ending of the musical version of Les Misérables, only this time Fantine was Valjean’s sweetheart.
Now, I don’t know whether there are many people clamoring for this story, like the back cover claims, as romance readers are generally known to prefer happy ever after that does not include the afterlife as part of the deal. But I am curious as to what the author has done here, only to be disappointed.
First, the story. Marsden meets Linnie when he was twelve and she eight, at his father’s funeral. She chats with him, and in doing so helps him feel a lot better. Cut to thirteen years later, when Marsden is your usual noble bloke, carousing in London with his buddies and coming back to his holdings now and then, while Linnie bakes and waits tables at an inn, hoping to save enough money to open her own bakery in London.
As you can probably guess, she is in love with him and is dreading the day when he marries and her dreams of being the one to mount him on the wedding night are 100% confirmed dead on water. Meanwhile, he knows that he can’t mount her, no matter how many times and positions he has fantasized about doing in his head, so he channels his suppressed desires into this creepy need to see her remain pure and chaste in a “So, if I can’t poke her, no man would!” way. Hence, he getting jealous and hot tempered when his friends talk about how they’d like to tup that tavern wench. He getting hot and bothered when any man pays attention to her, because that man may be touching her in ways that he has always imagined doing, and he can’t have that. When he hears that she wants to open a bakery in London, oh no, there are men there that could lure Linnie into sin and worse, so the man who carouses and sins in London tells her that she must stay here in the country.
Still, she will get to live out her Cinderella fantasy at a London ball with Marsden, so what kind of magic will come about that evening?
Well, nothing too magical. The whole thing is a generic kind of love story, with the heroine always having been in love with him and he seems to be more jealous that other men may get their hands on something he’d always wanted all along. There is the usual drama about how one is not good enough for the other too. Everything here feels very generic and familiar, and the short story format only means that the romance doesn’t get to be fully fleshed out.
This is a problem, because the romance is supposed to be the kind that is so larger than life, it’s like the angelic choir covering The Righteous Brothers’s Unchained Melody before seguing into Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On while a reel of dying unicorns struggling to take their final breath plays endlessly in a loop on a big screen behind the choir. Instead, I get one that only reinforces the disturbing class divide between the hero and the heroine, as he has all the power and say in the relationship. And then, we have the final few chapters, which would have been completely awashed in sugar that can cause a new third class of diabetes (especially if you drink something sweet each time they tell one another, “I love you!”) were not for this gem from Marsden:
“If I’d kept my cock in my trousers – “
I’m told by the author that the love is grand. I’m told that the love transcends death, and that it is so powerful that it is understandable that Marsden will go on to treat his son and charges in ways that will make me wince, because his penis skewered his beloved Linnie right into the grave. I’m told that this love cuts to the soul and is so powerful, I will surely cry and run off to hump a gravestone while pretending that it belongs to some long dead love.
But I don’t see any of that, just some half-baked story that tries to use an overload of sentimental muzak to mask its inadequacies.