by Lynn Kerstan, historical (2003)
Onyx, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-41116-1
I strongly suggest that you read Heart Of The Tiger first before you start on The Silver Lion. The plot is somewhat of a spillover from Heart Of The Tiger and the author has her hands full with too many subplots in this book to successfully plug in the backstory for readers unfamiliar with Heart Of The Tiger.
The Silver Lion has so much potential because unlike the previous two heroines of this author's feline trilogy books, Helena Pryce comes closest to being a strong and intelligent heroine. Helena grew up in the Seven Dials and comes and goes and helps financially the downtrodden that her guardian Jamie Carr oversees. In Tiger, Helena and Mira Holcombe, the heroine of Tiger, have bonded and Helena is given the task to compile a dossier on Derek Leighton, Earl of Varden, who is the enemy of Michael Keynes, the hero of Tiger.
Helena realizes that Varden is the man that can help her initiate some much-needed social reforms. When his secretary resigns, she applies for the position, hoping that she can influence him to speak at the Parliament on the issues close to her heart. Varden isn't too keen on having a female secretary and sends her on a test of her abilities, which she passes with flying colors. He wants to lease a castle belonging to Mira and be granted the permission to rebuild it. Why? See, Varden loves Mira, and he still does, even after Mira has married Michael, and... well, I'll let readers find out what Varden wants to do with the castle. I'll just say that it's a very romantic - if foolish - thing to do.
Helena is annoyed that Varden prefers to play with stones instead of delivering fiery speeches at the Parliament. She charges to that castle to resign, and one thing leads to another, she just has to have One Passionate Night with him and I have to take a fork to unroll my eyes back into their normal position. Then she flees, but not before Varden feeling the sting of her telling him that he is wasting his life chasing after dreams that can't be. He heads back to London, looks for her, and a lot of things happen. Among these things are: he needing her to find him a wife, he trying to save a kid she knows from being hanged, she trying to find the missing Michael Keynes, he trying to pin Michael as a highwayman going about shooting people, and that's not even taking into account his loving the wife of another man and she predictably whining about respectability after she's given the milk away for free. Completely lost among the cacophony is the embryo of a powerful love story between a damaged man and a passionate woman.
Helena is a decent heroine in that she is intelligent and thinks like a human being - at least for the early quarter of the book, that is. Eventually she will mutate into a more typical Regency heroine filled with "I'm not worthy" and wanting to run alone into danger moments while whining about respectability and more. I don't understand these women, truly. Won't it be more effective for her to become Varden's mistress if she wants to influence the man to make reforms in the Parliament? It's not as if she's not aware that he needs to marry someone of his own station, so why not just play the mistress? He likes her, she likes him, and they'll both be having sex while saving the poor children of the stews. Everyone wins! But no, Helena, after losing her virginity to Varden, loses about fifty points of her IQ as well in the process. She wastes no time moaning about how she cannot be with him anymore because she needs to be respectable to find other employment and oh besides, she's not worthy as he needs someone of his own class blah blah blah snore. I will be more amenable to her hang-ups if she hasn't given away the milk for free before moaning about the expiry date on her bottle.
But she's not a complete loss as she displays above average brainpower in matters that concerns the people she cares. She's a hopeless martyr when it comes to herself but she's more than willing to go the extra mile for everyone else she cares about. She can think, make decent decisions, and she is not gullible in the least. It's sad that these traits are enough to make Helena an above average heroine when they should be the basic requirements for a functional heroine. However, since so many historical romances have birdbrained heroines, I'll take what I can get and in this case Helena is good enough. Varden, on the other hand, is glorious. He's damaged in one hand and he tries so hard to be pouty-faced and sullen, but he's actually a noble fellow saving the world while trying to convince himself that he's a selfish bastard. Unfortunately, most of the glorious tortured hero moments come from his pining over a woman already married to another man.
So here we have a few issues that Varden and Helena have to face, foremost of all Varden's feelings for Mira Holcombe. The author has these two sealing a bargain early in the story involving he hiring her to (a) find him a wife, (b) give him rapier lessons, and (c) spying on Michael Keynes. Of all three components of the bargain, (b) is especially tantalizing as an earlier rapier duel scene between these two is pretty erotic. But all three aspects of the bargain are swept away, along with the main characters' internal conflicts, in favor of a manhunt that takes up the entire later half of the book. This external conflict is the main reason why I suggest that readers new to this trilogy should read Tiger first. Michael's conflict with his brother as well as his old enemies all come back to haunt him and without any background knowledge gleamed from Tiger, these readers may not be able to keep up.
This conflict is not a typical "muddle around, have some sex, and oops, the villain suddenly appears with a gun to blab everything" suspense plot. Unfortunately, it doesn't work too well because the author inexplicably chooses to have some pivotal scenes of the book take place offstage. For example, Michael's disappearence is recounted in a brief conversation between Helena and Varden before Helena rushes off and Varden chases after her. The full impact of Michael's disappearance, therefore, is lost on me.
I want to love The Silver Lion because the heroine is reasonably intelligent and the hero is just wonderful. But the author, for some reason only she and her editor will truly understand, sweeps aside everything she has built up in the first half of the story for a historical mystery tale in the second half. Varden's struggles in reconciling his love for Mira with his lust for Helena, Helena's drive for reforms, the chemistry between them - all ignored and reduced to some convenient resolution in favor for a mystery subplot that I find lacking in comparison.
Readers that find the mystery subplot compelling enough to make up for this lack will appreciate The Silver Lion much more than me. I find the author's jettisoning the dramatic components of her story a big disappointment and I can't help wondering what could have been if Helena and Varden are given space and time to explore and discover their developing attraction to each other. Oh well.
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