by Jane Feather, historical (2006)
Bantam, $6.99, ISBN 0-553-58756-0
The heroine Meg Barratt in this book has had lovers and is a self-declared "free spirit". While the usual suspects are already hammering at Jane Feather's door, calling Meg all kinds of euphemism for harlot (and making me wonder just how unlucky they must be to happen to read this book when there are six thousand books with virginal heroines out there), I want to like Meg for being different from the usual simpering martyr heroines. I mean, come on, what's the use of a typical heroine's virginity when she gives it away without much fight to the hero? Back to Meg, I could like her but unfortunately Jane Feather is at it again: she deliberately makes sure that the happy ending of the couple is littered with so many land mines that there is no way I can imagine that these two will ever be a happy couple for long.
Our hero, just Cosimo, is an assassin. Of course, he's working with the British, the good guys, and he just wants to put on end to Napoleon Bonaparte's reign, so it's not that bad, really. Like Meg will say, it's not like he killed those guys that he killed in the story. Oh, wait. That's one of the many land mines in this story, by the way: Meg is being a little too hard in trying to deny the ugly side of Cosimo's job and she just as hard tries to justify her attraction to him by attaching unrealistic illusions to Cosimo. She comes off, to me, as someone attracted to an overly romanticized version of Cosimo that she creates in her mind. Back to those two and how they meet, Meg has an accident during a rainstorm one day. Cosimo runs a ship, Mary Rose, and his men who are waiting for his partner and lover Ana apparently don't know how Ana looks like (Cosimo later describes Ana having been on his ship in the past, so go figure). These men take Meg to the ship. Cosimo, the genius, knows that his men don't know Ana but decides to set sail anyway without checking to see whether the right woman is onboard. When he realizes his mistake, he finds that Meg has a passing resemblance to Ana that he can use in some plan that Ms Feather never gets into enough details for my satisfaction. Therefore he will spend the rest of the story lying to Meg about why he isn't sending or can't send her home while being attracted to her. Since Cosimo tells me again and again that he is a heartless person, he decides to eventually use sex to get Meg to do things his way.
Meg is probably a too modern heroine in approach and mannerisms but like the heroine in the related book Almost A Bride, all brainpower flees the heroine after the nth shag and she starts becoming a martyr for the hero who does nothing to deserve her. I suppose one can argue that love should be given freely and the man shouldn't have to save her to earn her love, but come on, in this story, all Cosimo does is to lie to her and have sex with her, all the while plotting to use her for who-knows-what. Like Arabella, Meg is way too "understanding" when it comes to the hero's nonsense. She seems more enamored with the idea of being a martyr for love than being in love with Cosimo. When she decides to pull off some self-sacrificing stunt for Cosimo, she actually comes off as more lively than during the most energetic love scenes between her and Cosimo. Maybe she'll be disappointed that she doesn't get to die and therefore nobody will immortalize her in Celine Dion songs, I don't know, but to me, Meg falls in love with a Cosimo that she builds up in her mind rather than the actual Cosimo.
The problem here is that Ms Feather concentrates too much on sex and external conflicts. The foundation of the story, like Cosimo's background, character, and mission, is neglected. Cosimo announces that he loves Meg at the last page. Because the relationship between those two never develop much outside the bedroom, the declaration of love on his part and the intention to martyr herself in the name of love are all too hollow and contrived to be convincing.
Since their relationship is built on lies and lust, I don't see these two living a happy life in the long run. Also, Cosimo has this irritating tendency to compare Meg to Ana which makes me wonder whether he's going to keep making comparisons for the rest of their relationship, however long that may last. If he finds Ana so vivacious and exciting, how come he doesn't give a damn what happens to Ana?
Almost A Lady is supposed to be Jane Feather's idea of a seafaring adventure but for the most part when it comes to Cosimo's mission, she seems to be just making things up as she goes along where the details of the mission are concerned. For too long Cosimo is playing the role of this dangerous and seductive cold-hearted spy that he comes off too much like a reptile rather than a bad boy who's in love with the woman that catches his heart. When he tells Meg that he loves her, a part of me wonders what he wants to manipulate her into doing for him now since there's no way he really loves her just like that. As for Meg, if she's stupid enough to "understand" and "love" a man who brings nothing to the table but lies, she deserves what she gets and more.
Have we reached a point where a Jane Feather book is synonymous with jaded and bitter stories of chemistry-free relationships destined for heartbreak passed off as romantic stories?
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
Search for more reviews of works by this author: