The Challenge
by Edith Layton, historical (2000)
Harper, $5.99, ISBN 0-06-101433-8


Lord Hathaway Wycoff is an enigmatic, charming suitor of the heroine in Edith Layton's last book The Choice. Wycoff (I'm not calling him Hathaway or Hattie, so forget it) didn't get the woman in that book, but he does get Lucy Stone in this book.

It's just that I never guessed Wycoff is such a bore.

Wycoff left England and a not-so-flattering title of "Lord Of Adulterers" to America to seek out a new life. He mistakes Lucy Stone for a lady of the night (much to his and everyone's amusement), and upon realizing his mistake, soon sets to wooing Lucy, who is a most refreshing change from the usual simpering British women he encounters.

Lucy is British who has came to America to follow her late hubby's dream of new fortunes. She now is earning her stay in her cousin's hotel as bookkeeper and sometimes help, and wishes to return to England to help her son Jamie find his proper place there as an heir to a great inheritance and title. What - you don't expect leads of a historical to be blue-blooded? New to the genre, aren't you?

Long talk and more talk ensues, Lucy goes to England, meets Wycoff there, talk, talk, and more talk, and Gilly and Damon of The Choice appear for unnecessary goo-goo moments. In fact, Gilly's role is nothing more than a cheerleader for Lucy to snog Wycoff.

And why shouldn't she snog Wycoff? The whole story is almost 400 pages because she just couldn't, oh, even though she so dearly wants to rip off his pants. Let's see. At first she doesn't want to get pregnant, then it's because she believes that he would leave for England soon, then it's because he may have lied to her, and then... Lots of excuses. And the irritating thing is, at the same time, she already has her mind made up. No other man would do, because she sees Wycoff in every man and find them lacking.

I would be okay if she finds their character lacking compared to Wycoff's. But most of her argument revolves around the fact that they aren't as handsome as Wycoff, they don't kiss like Wycoff... someone's being pretty shallow.

Hence, for a woman that started out independent, brainy, and feisty, Lucy soon degenerates into shallow, fickle Barbie. She doesn't want to see Wycoff, wishes that her friend William is here, and when William does turn up, she is disappointed because no one is comparable to O Divine Hattie Wycoff.

Give me a break.

And Wycoff has no problem pulling her strings. After all, she can't even imagine Wycoff doing anything wrong. There's one scene where William, the jealous suitor, exposes Wycoff's supposed lies and perfidy. Poor William, everything is cleared up in ten seconds - Lucy just cannot believe Wycoff is anything less than the romantic ideal she envisions. She laps up everything he says without questioning.

Poor William - you never had a chance.

And Wycoff - ho hum. He says the right things, never puts out a wrong step, Lucy trusts him indefinitely... he is, I'm afraid, one of the dullest example of how boring perfection can be. So he has a lousy past. Big deal. He's so perfect now, it is hard to muster up any interest in this fellow. It's like reading about Superman doing the twelve labors of Hercules. You know he can do them all in one hour flat, so why bother?

Lucy trusts a perfect man who can do no wrong in her estimation. Hence, the whole story has to revolve around things happening, in this case, going to London to attend balls, Lucy weeping because she misses Wycoff but she doesn't want to see him so she sees William and gets even more teary because William isn't Wycoff (thonk!), Lucy meets her estranged family, Lucy goes for a ride in the park... after a while I really wished a masked slasher would appear and start causing mayhem. Anything, as long as something just happens, dammit!

And the most irritating thing is, Lucy's doubts are all cleared - oh, blue, blue skies! - after the first boinking session with Wycoff! She loves him now, really! At page 338, unfortunately. If only I've known how interminable this story is, and how shallow Lucy is, I would've laced their tea with some of my Granny's aphrodisiac recipes.

The Challenge has nice writing, but I find it boring, monotonous, and lightweight in terms of emotions. Wave goodbye now, Lucy and Hattie - I'd leave you both in your perfect, pristine, and interminably stuffy world.

Rating: 65


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