by Nicole Byrd, historical (2005)
Berkley, $6.99, ISBN 0-425-20443-X
Gilding The Lady is one of the really too many historical romances out there that has a plot so flimsy that all it takes is one halfway critical examination of the premise and everything collapses like a house of cards hit by a tornado.
Our heroine first appeared in the related book Vision In Blue but this is a pretty standalone book as her back story is made pretty clear to readers who haven't read that previous book. Clarissa Fallon was separated from her brother in a Dire Circumstance Beyond Her Control and as a result spent her childhood and teenage years as a Cinderella in various homes and shelters until she is rescued by her brother. Now, she is trying her best to fit in with her brother's people, the Ton.
She meets Dominic Shay when the Earl of Whitby volunteers his service to turn Clarissa into a proper lady. Clarissa of course doesn't want to disappoint anybody and everybody so she's more than happy to be schooled by him. Plus, she finds him hot. Dominic is a standard rake who was an ex-soldier in That War and he justifies his current male slut antics by having an occasional Tormented By Memories And Feelings Of Anguish Of His Time In That War episode here and there to remind me that He Is Hurt and He Needs The Love Of A Pure Good Woman. However, as these two embark on a predictable relationship, her past and his enemies will catch up with them.
Clarissa starts out a complete pain in the behind. She has no self-esteem. I suspect that the author is trying to show me how sad Clarissa is and how I should be full of sympathy for her. But every time Clarissa wails that she can't learn proper titles of the people in the Ton or how she can't dance even before really trying, I find myself thinking that Clarissa is pretty slow in the head. Likewise, Clarissa acts as if she is traumatized by her past to the point that I suspect that perhaps she's been physically brutalized before. It turns out that her trauma is due to the fact that she is made to clean the house, sweep the floor, scrub the walls, and experience a few horny toad glances and touches now and then. Oh, so Clarissa's greatest nightmare is that she's one of the working class women, is it? I suppose it is lucky that our Miss Thing here is going to marry an Earl by the end of the book if the mere sight of a pail full of soap water will send her into fits of terror.
Rather inexplicably, by the second half of the book, our drama queen heroine suddenly morphs into a completely different person. This new Clarissa is self-assured (all she needs is some pretty dresses to feel like a new woman) and most importantly, she is willing to fight for Dominic's love. There is no "he's too good for me" nonsense from her. She realizes that she's in love with him and she will make him realize that he loves her back. Despite the agony Clarissa has put me through with her exaggerated Cinderella act in the first half of the story, I find myself warming up to this refreshingly not-so-clichéd Clarissa. There is nothing that can be done for poor Dominic though. He's a tried and true stereotype, a very tired and familiar one at that.
Thanks to the heroine suddenly turning into an entirely different person in the second half, Gilding The Lady isn't as excruciatingly clichéd and dull as I initially feared. Unfortunately, there are enough tired and derivative elements in this story to ensure that it remains mired in averageness.
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