A Woman Of Virtue
by Liz Carlyle, historical (2001)
Sonnet, $6.50, ISBN 0-7434-1055-6


Cecilia Markham-Sands' history with David I'm-sure-he-has-a-surname-but-I-don't-seem-to-recall-it, Lord Delacourt, begins when she strips in a stable and Delacourt mistakes her for a strumpet. It's pawing time! Naturally, despite her initial shock of being molested in public, our heroine succumbs to our hero's mastery kisses and responds. Until she is caught by her brother and sobriety returns.

Naturally, she refuses to marry him. I understand: I don't want to be married to a drunken, leering pervert myself. But everyone - male, naturally - keeps telling her that Delacourt is a good man - he's just a drunken, horny pervert with probably bad breath, but other than that, he's a Good Sort. Besides, they're sure she is as attracted to him as they think he is attracted to her. (Shame on the author for trying to sugarcoat a woman's being molested as an okay thing because she kisses him back despite having said "No".) Still, they compromise. They will have a sham engagement and she will jilt him, and they will move on with their lives.

Chapter 1 begins with Cecilia now a widow of a much older man, some disposable Lord Lorimer. Now Cecilia spends her time being a Woman of Virtue at some charities. When Delacourt ends up helping her at one of her charities, a shelter for reformed prostitutes, they solve a Jack-the-Ripper style of murder cases involving said fallen ladies. The attraction rekindles, of course.

Whatever.

It takes me weeks to finish this book, and finishing A Woman Of Virtue is a chore indeed. Set in the Regency era and being exactly like every other freakin' Regency stories done in that era, A Woman Of Virtue spares no restrains when it comes to piling on the clichés. Ugly, overdone clichés, with no attempt to even try to make them new. Shall I list them?

Heroine married to older man whom she doesn't love, and that poor fool doesn't even get to do the pumpies with her. By the way, she stripping in the stable? It's because she has been pretending to be a jockey. You see, her brother is an idiot who has gambled too much. To save their fortune, our tomboy, horse-riding heroine (who also loathes society frivolity and gossip and only wants to marry for love, et cetera) has to jockey the Prized Super Stallion to win pots of money. Now, where have I read this heroine-and-her-horse device before? Hmmph!

And she marries the poor unorgasmed idiot because she, despite being as beautiful as sin, has no suitor and oooh, she has to marry the first man who asks because she is so Desperate and Hammed In by Unpleasant Relatives! That's a cliché that wants to eat the cake and to buy over the whole bakery for you: a beautiful heroine who couldn't get a man other than the hero. Incidentally, there are other men in this story - lecherous pigs who want our heroine's body. As opposed to our hero who wants our heroine's body, I suppose.

The oooohhh loyal maid.

The tortured rake. Now Delacourt puzzles me. His mother is raped by his father, and he is supposed to be deeply affected by that sad events leading to his birth. But at the same time, he is a womanizer with a preference for prostitutes. I assume he only visits prostitutes where the ladies are treated like gold? Maybe it's one of those coddle-pamper brothels run by a misunderstood single-mommy virginal madame/future romance heroine who is in the biz because she only wants to save her ancestral home. Or maybe this is another cliché that wants it both ways, logic be damned.

And the pace d - r - a - g - s. Every chapter seems to introduce a new secondary cast - a maid, a society debutante, a police officer, a matron, somebody - for no purpose other than to chew scenery as our cast go about their merry way about town. It seems an eternity before the killing starts, and finally, readability! By that point, however, half the book has passed with nothing but the meandering blues playing in the background.

The rest of the book is still as predictable as sunrise, but at least people are getting killed and our two lovers are finally doing something about things. But I don't understand Delacourt much (see above) and his character remains a sketchy gray blur. He is just as much a rake stereotype as Cecilia is a goodie-two-shoes Brown Cow Bluestocking Virtuous Chaste Virginal Widow cliché.

With each book, this author descends deeper into genericity. A pity - her debut My False Heart manages to bring freshness to an overdone theme, but with her subsequent books, she doesn't even seem to try.

A Woman Of Virtue will make many, many conservative Regency readers experience multiple orgasms. It is well-written and it faithfully adheres to the "New Cover, Different Author, Same Old Story" school of writing. By this virtue, the author will also bag many, many RITA and RT awards too. Good for the author. Now if you'll excuse me, my quest for an Interesting Romance continues. I'm too disinterested and numb from boredom to even think of any attempt at puns to end this review.

Rating: 52


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