by Juliana Gray, historical (2012)
Berkley, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-25107-2
If you have not read the previous book by Juliana Gray, A Lady Never Lies, do yourself a favor and listen to me: do not read this book without having read that book first. The bulk of this story takes place simultaneously with the story in the previous book, and the author here chooses not to repeat key scenes from the previous book by simply skipping over those scenes. As a result, anyone who hasn't read the previous book may find this book choppy and disjointed, like a jigsaw puzzle with several pieces missing. This book relies on your memory of the previous book to fill in some gaps in the timeline and the story, so yes, you do want to read the previous book first.
If you haven't read the previous book, you can read this review, however, as both stories can stand alone pretty well. It's just that the author chooses in this book to leave out or mention only in passing certain scenes that would have made it easier for new readers to catch up. At any rate, read my review of the previous book to get the background information and the premise of this series.
So, time around, we focus on the second couple in the Tuscany comedy of errors - Lord Roland Penhallow, the spare sibling of the future Duke of Olympia, and Elizabeth "Lilibet" Harewood, the woman he'd fallen in love with at first sight six years ago.
Alas, back then, Roland went on his first spy mission to Norway. As far as Lilibet knew, he was fishing in Norway. Her family was besieged by debts and her parents pretty much sold her off to the cruel Earl of Somerton for money, and she tried asking the Norway embassy for help to locate Roland. No, he was still fishing in Norway, sorry dear. When Roland came home at last and realized that she'd married Somerton, he didn't bother calling because his pride was wounded, and soon, he began making his rounds of debauchery around town. Of course, the hedonistic excess is a front, as Roland is actually a spy doing his Scarlet Pimpernel thing, but Lilibet doesn't know that.
So, now, they meet again. Lilibet is the mother of Philip, a six-year old boy, and when it's convenient, she'd never leave or divorce her husband because she can't bear to leave Philip to that man's tender mercies. At other moments, Lilibet is all about honor and fidelity even when her husband is this cruel oaf who can somehow still shag anything in town that moves. So, basically, the entire story is about Lilibet alternating between moaning in ecstasy in Roland's arms during her moments of weakness and shrieking in self-loathing and disgust at everything once she comes back to this world.
This book boasts a couple that are polar opposites, and not in a good way. Roland is charming, flippant, and free from angst, often to the point of being one-dimensional. Think of him as that big yellow smiley with a bigger grin. Lilibet on the other hand is a complete killjoy, emanating self-loathing, disgust, and misguided determination to martyr herself while constantly blaming Roland for her own weaknesses. She's that big red smiley with a bigger frown.
Lilibet spends the bulk of this story behaving like a shrew who couldn't spare a kind word to Roland, and yet, Roland pants after her with a single-minded determination that only badly-written heroes can bring to the table. At the same time, he knows that he actually abandoned her - even if he had good reasons back then, what with the good of the motherland and all - but he seems to believe that his flippant apologies will make everything okay again. It never occurs to him that divorce is never as simple as he seems to think it is. So, on one side we have a hero who seems like an immature simpleton at times.
On the other side is a weak, whiny, and pessimistic heroine who can't control her libido, blames him for this weakness of hers, and yes, she can't help pulling some stupid stunts here that only complicate her situation. I especially love that part about how she wants to be completely beyond reproach so that her husband can never find her morally lacking, but she must have sex with Roland a few dozen pages into the book - in the name of true love and that one memory to last a lifetime, of course - and of course she never thinks about birth control. Every other big stunt Lilibet pulls off in this story seems contrived to dig a bigger hole beneath her feet. It doesn't help that her grand moments in the penultimate scenes of the story revolve around her crying like a helpless idiot while blaming herself for everything that has happened. Actually, yes, she's to blame for most of the events that happen here because she is too stupid not to keep her legs shut but it's actually quite annoying to see her wailing and weeping only to be rewarded with a happy ending.
A Gentleman Never Tells is everything the previous book isn't - this one boasts a pair of poorly-written clichés that are designed from scratch to be as utterly obnoxious as possible. This next book is going to be far better than this, I'd wager, because it can't possibly get any worse. At least, I hope not.
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