by Andrea DaRif, historical (2003)
Pocket, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-6348-X
Andrea Pickens' new beginning as Andrea DaRif is off on a rocky start. The Tiger's Mistress has its good moments, but half the time I want to strangle the heroine Portia Hadley until she begs for mercy for ever offending my sensibilities by being so monstrously stupid too often. Yes, this is a story that relies on the heroine's stupidity to fuel the story. Hang on tight, people.
I really like the hero the Earl of Branford. He's a typical hero in that he is a Tormented Ex-Spy now living the life of a megaslut (or like a member of the royalty of Monaco, if you prefer) to drown his guilt and inner demons even as he is called on One Last Mission to Smash The Furriners. The usual kind of hero, really. But Ms DaRif manages to make Branford's struggles with alcoholism and PSTD more poignant and realistic than the usual "rake, ex-spy guy, just add water" heroes typical of the Regency historical subgenre. He meets Portia when he escapes the boring tedium of an orgy downstairs at a house party to find our heroine trying to open the host's drawer (table drawer, not the underwear kind) with a hairpin. Intrigued, he helps her and even saves her hide, and later he will learn that he and Portia may be looking for the same thing.
Portia is looking for her missing father. Unfortunately, her modus operandi leaves a lot to be desired. It is bad enough that I am introduced to Portia when she stupidly climbs to the window and into the bad host's study in skirts and other fripperies, she also has to choose to break in when there's an orgy going on downstairs. When Branford treats her like his mistress for the night to divert the suspicions of his host, she doesn't get it and instead fights him off like a complete moron that she is. I mean, seriously, what does she want to do? Tell two leering, drunk, and pantless men that she is a Lady so get out of her way? And no, she's not grateful to Branford, instead delivering a ridiculous I Am A Lady diatribe that has no place or time in her situation. This pattern of behavior is repeated throughout the book. While I admire tenacity, I have my doubts about this heroine's running into the brick wall of her ineptness and stupidity again and again like a misprogrammed robot.
There is some hint of something in Portia that goes under her superficial Idiot With A Passion But Nary A Clue facade in that she actually resents having to take care of the absent-minded bumbling males in her family to the point that she loses her own chance at happiness. Her father is often portrayed in a honest and blunt way that no way disguises the cruelty of his actions in taking Portia for granted. But it's hard to emphatize with a realistic heroine that's also unrealistically stupid at the same time.
Oh, and yes, the villain tells everything at the gunpoint square-off. Another moron.
I have not read any of this author's books as Andrea Pickens and I don't really intend to, honestly, as traditional Regency is really not my thing. But I like how Andrea DaRif manages to imbue often realistic traits that make her familiar characters stand out as being at least two-dimensional. But with Portia's incessant "Stupid and Repeat" antics making this book a difficult read, it is hard to call The Tiger's Mistress anything but a well-written pain the behind.
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