Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-291359-3
Historical Romance, 2019
Now, it is a given in modern day romance novels that, no matter how disagreeable or disreputable a hero may be in the beginning, he will be transformed into a more agreeable husband material through the act of falling in love with a good woman. He may have screwed ten million women, all of whom he treated like chewed gum stuck on the sole of his shoe afterward, but it is a given that he will always be the perfect husband to the heroine. Still, I always enjoy seeing the journey that takes the hero from bell end to gentleman, hence my fondness for bad boy heroes in general.
Caroline Linden’s When the Marquess Was Mine doesn’t afford such a journey. The hero’s “redemption” – or what passes for one – is very flimsy and I never believe that he has ever earned the heroine’s love or his happy ending by the last page. That, people, is quite a problem for me when it comes to enjoying the story.
Georgiana Lucas is visiting her friend Kitty in Derbyshire when Kitty receives a letter from her husband telling her not to entertain a certain Marquess of Westmoreland when that man shows up at their home. Kitty isn’t dumb – she soon pieces together information she gets on the Marquess from Georgiana to deduce that her husband’s disagreement with the marquess likely involves some kind of mess at the gambling table. She’s right: Charles Winslow was over his head and ended up losing the deed to their house to the marquess. Naturally, the marquess is on his way too, only to be set upon by men during the trip and ended up being beaten into an amnesiac, but still sexy, pulp.
It is Georgiana who comes across Robert Churchill-Gray, the marquess, and has him sent to Kitty’s place for some TLC. It is only when he is cleaned up does she recognize him, and to prevent Kitty from doing anything drastic, our rational heroine announces that Robert is her fiancé Lord Sterling, whom she has been betrothed to for two years, and Kitty has no reason to disbelieve her friend. Hence, a deception is born. Despite our heroine being convinced that Robert is a mean and cruel boor – she overheard him once deriding her as a tease to his friends, only he used far cruder words to make his point – she soon falls for him because he is so sweet and sexy or something.
Here’s the thing: our heroine has terrible opinions of Robert, but she soon falls for this amnesiac Robert, because, as she puts in on page 270, late in the story, she knows this Robert while she barely knows Robert the Marquess of Westmoreland. What kind of bizarre logic is this? She’s separating the man into two different compartments, and somehow this is supposed to be a rational basis for love.
Here’s the thing: in the first chapter, I’m shown that our hero is the kind who parties and drinks until he blacks out, remembering very little if at all about the events of the evening on the morning after. Robert waves away his act of winning a house in a gambling session, not caring that this could lead to displacement of people living in the house who have no say in the matter and may have nowhere else to go, because he says that it’s the other man’s fault for playing with him.
This is an asshole. More than anything, Rob needs to have some crap hammered forcefully out of his personality before I can believe that he can be any sane woman’s idea of a husband material. Yet, here, he gets amnesia, falls in love… and all of his disagreeable antics in the beginning of the book are miraculously hand waved away just like that. Am I supposed to believe that he won’t fall back to his old ways? When a story needs amnesia to turn the hero into a halfway agreeable fellow, the romance is a major hard sell to me.
It doesn’t help that Georgiana doesn’t make Rob work to earn her love. It’s not long before she is whining that she is not worthy of finding happiness with this drunken, thoughtless boor of a pig-man who just happens to be nice because of his head receives one too many blows, oh oh oh. That’s why I said earlier that I never feel that the hero has to do anything to deserve his happy ending – the author hands everything to him just like how our heroine gives away the milk and begs him to come back for seconds without making him earn any of this. Men like Rob are fun romance heroes only when they undergo a character arc that highlights how they have changed for the heroine. Here, Georgiana is his reward for being an ass and having amnesia.
Oh, and there is a subplot about how this drink-until-he’s-completely-out twatwaffle is somehow capable enough to be given some kind of secret spy duty. Fortunately, the author sort of forgets about this after the first few chapters and brings it up again only for some cursory wrap up late in the story. I wish I can just as easily forget this dumb subplot.
I know, alcoholism, promiscuity, aversion to personal hygiene, sexual harassment, and more are desirable traits in a romance hero for many readers. Me, though, I feel that the fun comes in how the author subversively turns such a hero into a desirable man of one’s dreams. This can be done and has been done well before by many authors that specialize in bad boys – including the author herself. Here, though, there is no such attempt. Just a disagreeable knob who gets amnesia and somehow that makes him a changed person who deserves all happiness to be handed to him. We may as well have the hero kidnapped by aliens and brainwashed in the UFO into a completely different person – the story would still be the same, but at least then I may get to see some spaceship fights or something. Those things, at least, would have livened up this implausible romance.