by Jacquie D'Alessandro, historical (2006)
Avon, $6.99, ISBN 0-06-077941-1
Jacquie D'Alessandro's Never A Lady doesn't come together very well at all. This story doesn't feel as coherent as it should be, instead coming off like a patchwork of bestselling Avon historical romance clichés. Like the author's previous book Not Quite A Gentleman, Never A Lady has a very enjoyable romance at its very core but everything else about the story doesn't really gel with the premise.
Madame Alexandra Larchmont is the latest fashionable trend of the Ton. A fortune teller, she's much sought after by hostesses to make their balls a success. However, Alexandra isn't fully at ease in her surroundings because her cards had warned her to watch out for a man that fits the hero's physical description. Of course, the fact that he had caught her when she tried to rob his watch four years ago will also be a reason to avoid him. This is what Alex does when she spots the man in question, Colin Oliver, at a ball where she is putting on a show.
Unfortunately for her, Colin is determined to seek out Madame Larchmont in an attempt to figure out some troubling dreams he's been having lately. He worries that he's going to die soon. If he's really going to die, he's best settle down and produce an heir soon because he isn't keen on seeing his brother (the hero in Not Quite A Gentleman) become the new Viscount Sutton. Fortunately for Alex, he doesn't seem to recognize her as the thief who tried to steal his watch four years ago.
A subplot is brewing. Alex overheard some sinister conversations about a Dire Plot in a party recently and now she's paranoid about being watched and followed. When dead bodies start popping up, Colin ends up taking her in and the romance settles into familiar "you and me in my big house" territory. What will happen next? Will Colin and Alex solve the mystery of the dead bodies and Dastardly Plot and all? Will Colin really die? Please don't tell me you actually, seriously contemplate the possibility that Colin will die at any point in this story.
Ms D'Alessandro does many things right in the relationship between Colin and Alex. For one, she avoids the trap that ensnares many of her fellow authors where the heroine will scream that she will never trap him in a marriage that she fervently believes he doesn't want and runs straight into danger. She also avoids the hero going on and on about how he doesn't believe in love. However, at the same time Ms D'Alessandro also makes concessions to the formula. Alex for the most part is pretty smart and if she isn't being very smart at a particular moment, Ms D'Alessandro makes it easy for me to believe that Alex is just being out of her league when it comes to intrigue and all. The romance between the two characters is very nicely written and developed with plenty of moments when I am laughing along with whatever it is they find so charming about each other.
However, while the romance is adorable, the characters themselves are pretty off in some ways. It is as if Ms D'Alessandro is throwing every romance character cliché she can think of at her drawing board and hoping that some of them will stick. Colin is an ex-spy and a supposedly sensible nobleman all about duty and responsibility, therefore he comes with every familiar trait and baggage associated with those two personality traits. Alex has even a more "let's put all the eggs in one small basket and see how things go" feel - she's had a tough life being born in St Giles and all, she spends her free time taking care of sad kiddies in St Giles, and more.
The problem arises when these characters often do not behave like their backgrounds would have them to. Usually I will understand if Colin doesn't consider Alex a person he would marry, since he's a member of the Ton and all, but in this book he knows and acknowledges that his father and, recently, his brother married for love without caring too much about the station and pedigree of the women in question. Ms D'Alessandro doesn't succeed in portraying Colin as a stiff-lipped anal retentive fellow obsessed about genealogy and titles, so his inability to acknowledge his feelings for Alex comes off more like a contrivance to get the story going a little longer rather than a valid action resulting from his personality. Likewise, when Ms D'Alessandro feels the need to have Colin all puffed up and manly as he comes to the rescue, she'd make Alex come off as too ignorant for someone who supposedly grew up as an orphan in St Giles.
The romance is easily the best thing about Never A Lady and the best scenes in this book - the funniest and the most heartwarming - are the romantic ones. But with everything else from the characterization to the plotting feels as if they are haphazardly tossed in, I don't know whether I can give this book my full recommendation. The romance is there, but this book isn't quite there yet, if you know what I mean.
This book at Amazon.com
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