by Sabrina Jeffries, historical (2010)
Pocket, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4391-6751-9
Sabrina Jeffries's The Truth About Lord Stoneville is the start of a new series of five siblings being mandated by their grandmother to marry before the month is out or to be cut off from her will.
Instead of giving you the synopsis first, I'm going to delve right into my opinion of this book. The reason for this is because the plot of the story is one of the biggest problems I have with this story. The plot comprises a slew of tried and tested clichés but they are put together in a manner that befuddles me.
Okay, we have the Lord Stoneville in question, Oliver Sharpe. His father married his mother for her money and shortly after, he abandoned her for his mistresses and good time friends, and Oliver's mother turned into a deranged jealous woman as a result. When Mommy Dearest caught Oliver doing the naughty with some woman when he was sixteen, she accused him of being exactly like his father before rushing to confront her husband. Oliver tried to get his grandmother Hetty Plumtree to stop his mother, but Hetty downplayed the incident as nothing more than lover's quarrel. And some quarrel it turned out to be - Mommy Dearest ended up shooting her Bastard No Good Husband dead before taking her own life.
As a secondary character in this story would remark later on, one would expect Oliver to behave after the traumatic event, but you know how things can be. We like our romance heroes to remind us that deep inside every attractive asshole male is a wounded heart waiting to be filled with love by a buxom and sexy but naturally virginal and virtuous maiden. So Oliver spends his life slutting and drinking and woo-hooing all over the place because he's convinced that he's just like his father and therefore he will have to... I don't know, stick it here, there, and everywhere in case it falls off from disuse, I suppose.
So now he has to marry. Oh, he doesn't want the money, but he doesn't want to see his siblings go without the money, so here he is, looking for a fake fiancée that will change his grandmother's mind about seeing him married. His fiancée must be completely inappropriate, because despite knowing that his grandmother is a cunning woman, he believes that such an obvious ploy will work on that woman.
Meet Maria Butterfield. She is an American in London, looking for her missing fiancé. She and her borderline-dimwitted cousin are here in London and they are now chasing after some guy whose bag resembles the one Maria gave her missing Nathan Hyatt. In a turn of events best described simply as "well, things just happened", Maria finds herself blackmailed into being Oliver's fake fiancée. In return, he will pay for some Bow Street Runner to seek Nathan. Why Maria doesn't seek out the Bow Street Runner herself, I will never know. Even later, when Hetty offers to pay Maria off with money that she can use to hire people to locate Nathan, Maria will turn down that offer. I'm to believe that she believes in keeping her promise to Oliver, despite the fact that he repeatedly tells her that he has no scruples and morals. Everything about Maria's reason to be in this story and to be with Oliver feels like one big awkward contrivance, so the less said about this, the better.
The two characters and the whole plot feel very familiar. The script is predictable, right down to the heroine putting out to the hero and then deciding to flee from his life for good because she's convinced that he doesn't love her. In fact, it's not just that this story is a rehash of everything familiar in this kind of stories, there are too many things in this story that resemble closely the author's more recent works. And those works are much better than this story, unfortunately. The hero have similar issues to the hero in Let Sleeping Rogues Lie, but the hero of the other book was more well-developed than Oliver. Oliver is a thinly drawn character who relies heavily on my familiarity with the woobie trope to fill in the blanks in his personality. You know that kind of woobie, I'm sure - that bloke who is constantly insisting to all and sundry that he is without a heart even as the author has her heroine and her secondary characters repeatedly tell me that the hero is just a sad fellow who is looking for someone to love.
Maria is a rehash of this author's typical heroine, only with a lot of inconsistencies in her behavior. For example, on page 139, when the hero's acquaintance remarks negatively on the hero's family, she will lecture the hero's acquaintance without any hint of irony, "You judge them by your own standards without knowing them personally. How dare you?" She barely knows the hero and his family by this point, but I guess we shouldn't stop her from defending woobies in this world. And yet, on page 152, she would go, oh she can't trust Oliver because she has heard rumors about his reputation that seem to be true. What happened to not applying her own standards without knowing him personally, hmm? As late as in page 306, she's still harboring doubts about Oliver even as she believes that she loves him. So why is she defending him if she is unsure of his virtue? And why does she claim that she is a virtuous chit when she puts out to a guy whom she can't trust? Maria comes off as a rather dim-witted hypocrite who defends the hero in public in order to soothe her own conscience, as she certainly harbors the same negative impressions of the man she is putting out for free without any thought about the consequences of her antics.
Also, the other four siblings, who together with Oliver are called the Hellions of Halstead Hall, seem too well-behaved to warrant being saddled with such a nickname. One brother is a reckless gambler, another brother does... something, and we have two sisters, one who writes Gothic novels and another who behaves like a tomboy. Scandalous, eh? In this story, they are the author's mouthpieces, telling Maria and Oliver how right they are for each other. If these five people are hellions, then I'm a regular hell-raising dominatrix of the party.
The Truth About Lord Stoneville is a story that relies heavily on gimmicky and familiar tropes - and the reader's enjoyment of them - to drag itself to the finish line. But with such an uninspired and often inconsistent handling of such tropes, the truth in this book is that the whole thing is a dull and forgettable affair. The author has written much better books in the past. Look there, not here.
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