by Donna Birdsell, historical (2005)
Berkley, $6.99, ISBN 0-425-20634-3
When I read Donna Birdsell's first historical romance with Jove, The Painted Rose, I thought the author has a nice touch with prose even if her characters are one-note overblown melodramatic stick figures. Falcon's Mistress is her follow-up to The Painted Rose and the first book in a series featuring a group of secret agents with code names like Leopard, Wolf, Sparrow, Raven, and Pig. Okay, no Pig and no Monkey either, but there should always be a Pig and a Monkey if we can't get a blanket ban on stupid secret agents using stupid code names, if I may say so.
Falcon's Mistress is a horrible book. There is none of the nice prose that I remembered this author was capable of here, only really clumsy characterizations and laborious plotting so stupid that I fear my IQ must have dipped by at least 80 points just by following the braindeads in this story all the way to the last page. The plot of this book is a "What is she thinking to even put it down on paper?" material. Don't believe me? Here, let me give you the plot.
The Duke of Canby, John Markley, knew Selena Hewitt since he was a boy and she was the slightly older daughter of the falconer. As a twenty-year old birdbrain, he asked her to be his mistress, generously saying that he couldn't marry her but he loved her so hey, how about a tup, toots? She turned down the opportunity and told him that she was getting married to another man. He was Hurt. She didn't love that man she was about to marry. This was a Rejection! A Betrayal! Nooooo! John threw off his clothes - don't ask - and ran away to become a secret agent codenamed Leopard. How nice, people, he did it out of love.
Six years later, it's 1787 and our hero, now known as Jack Pearce, gets news that Selena has been arrested and is about to be tried for his "murder". It turns out that Jack's disappearance now gives his evil mother a chance to announce him murdered, implicate Selena, and with Jack declared dead, free to deal with Jack's estates and money as per her Evil Plan. So Jack now comes back to England. To the rescue, right? Let me guess, you're now thinking that Jack will storm up to the judge, announce that he's still alive, and the story will end happily for all. That's a rational and logical thing for Jack to do, right?
Here is what happens instead. Jack shows up incognito and watches quietly as Selena is implicated as a murderess and sentenced to lifetime imprisonment. Then he plans to free her and throw her somewhere else because clearly it's better to have her live her life as a refugee from the law instead of clearing her name. When I factor in his incompetence and carelessness all those years ago that allows the "evidence" of his murder to implicate Selena - evidence that mystifyingly enough manages to keep for six years - I can't help but to be charmed when Jack then refuses to feel any pity for Selena. After all, she doesn't deserve anyone's pity since she is this nasty cold woman who turned down his generous offer six years ago. How dare she think of only herself! Doesn't she care that she has hurt him so badly?
Because Selena is this terrible woman who has done him so much harm that he no doubt has severe trauma from her callous rejection, it is therefore right that he sneers and intimidates Selena when she can't recognize him after he's rescued her. It is not as if she has just been through a horrifying experience or anything, let's continue to torment her! She deserves it, that... that... ho. And Jack is taken aback when Selena gorges hungrily on food in the first meal she has since her escape, thinking, and I quote, "he'd never seen a woman eat that way". I know, after all those ten course meals in prison, Selena is such a pig to still eat like that in the company of a gentleman. Ms Birdsell without irony states a few pages earlier that Jack had been in prison for three weeks. I suppose men in that prison dine using the correct forks and spoons.
Throughout all this, Jack acts like it's a burden that he has to rescue Selena and all he wants to do is to go back to France and complete his mission. It never occurs to him that maybe he owes Selena his help since his nonsense caused Selena to end up in jail. No, it's okay that he refuses to even pity Selena because that whore rejected his offer to be her protector. I find it disturbing that an adult man of twenty-six years old can still hold a petty grudge against a woman who has been wrongly sentenced for life imprisonment for his apparent murder.
And I haven't even made it through the first 50 pages of the book by this point, believe it or not. From this point, it's apparent to me that nothing short of Jack being fed to the pigs can redeem this story but I can't stop reading because I feel compelled to see how big of a trainwreck this book will turn out to be. And oh boy, it's a big trainwreck all right as the author drags me into my least favorite story: a dated melodrama where every woman other than the heroine is a murderous psychotic bitch-whackjob straight out of a 1980s romance novel. The hero, of course, just cannot believe that his mother is evil incarnate so he'll just la-di-da and fee-fi-fo-fum along in his shocking inability to see the obvious (remember, he's a secret agent) until it's nearly too late.
I can't blame Selena for some of the stupid things she does in this story since she is after a woman thrust into this situation, one in which she is clearly way out of her league when it comes to dealing with it. But Jack is the secret agent, he's the one who's supposed to be the capable one, but in Falcon's Mistress, Jack comes off as the braindead one who acts shockingly petty, holds a grudge and acts like he's the one who is suffering the most in this story, and approaches a mystery with the brainpower of a protozoa. I don't think I need to point out that I find the romance between Selena and Jack as enjoyable to follow as I would enjoy having all my teeth pulled out without anesthesia. Then there's a "mystery" which is a Cartoonish Psychotic Bitches Behaving Badly masterpiece that embarrasses everybody that is involved in it one way or the other because it is just so ridiculously cartoonish and makes Jack come off even more braindead than he already is when he remains so clueless to the obvious for so long. Some secret agent, I tell you. Then again, when these morons call themselves Tigers, Leopards, Eagles, or whatever, they have to be compensating for something, right?
Falcon's Mistress would have been alright if the hero isn't such a worthless waste of carbon material and the plot isn't overrun with ridiculous mothers and girlfriends from hell. Then again, that would mean any other story is most likely to be better than this embarrassingly awful story.
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