True Pretenses
by Karen Lingefelt, historical (2003)
Leisure, $5.99, ISBN 0-8439-5292-X


Karen Lingefelt's debut Regency-era historical romance is so convoluted that the reader may need a flowchart to keep track of the story. Also, the book is very historically anachronistic when it comes to the relationship between the hero and the heroine and their staff that this book is a double whammy for readers that are concerned about historical authencity in their stories - the plot is ridiculous and the authenticity isn't there. Oh dear.

Serena Langley is betrothed to Christopher "Kit" Woodard when she was barely a teenager due to some complicated rigmarole. She says that she is part and parcel of a nefarious agreement where Kit's father forced himself on Serena's aunt and now the marriage is some ways to make amends. So she cannot marry Kit because she knows Kit will force himself on her mentally handicapped sister. I think. To be honest, I'm quite confused because Kit's side of the story is completely different: he was forced to marry as a reparation for a set-up where he was framed as a lout that took advantage of Serena's aunt. He has to find this woman, he has to marry Serena so that sixty thousand pounds don't go to a cousin that owns a plantation in the West Indies ran by slaves (see, our hero doesn't want the money for himself - awww, isn't that sweet?), so he must marry Serena.

For some reason, he has to sneak around and write letters to Serena instead of making a formal visit when he returns from India. I don't know why - Serena's cousin Harriet and her husband, whom Serena is staying with, will be more than happy to wrap her up and send her on her way to Kit. Instead, Kit has to masquerade as his coachman and deliver missives from himself to Serena, aided by Serena's close friend and neighbor whom, coincidentally, also knows Kit very well. Why can't Nicholas just explain the situation straight to Serena on Kit's behalf, you ask? Don't ask me, ask Ms Lingefelt.

Serena is rescued from a tentacle-handed man by "Alfred Gibson", the handsome coachman, and she immediately has her heart aflutter by this handsome man. Here is where the sticky problem of Serena's being so friendly with her staff rears its ugly head: is it remotely conceivable that a lady of the upper class will entertain, without any hesitation on her behalf, the idea of falling for a coachman? Serena is one of those annoyingly egalitarian heroines that let her staff walk all over her. Early on in the story, her abigail Mirriam actually and openly overrules Serena's orders in front of her, without any repercussions. When Mirriam actually goes to "Alfred Gibson" and propose that he seduces Serena as a means to make her marry him (love, as Mirriam says, will find a way to make things right), that's when even I cannot suspend my disbelief anymore. She's an abigail, for heaven's sake, and she's asking men to ruin the woman under her charge!

Even if I can suspend my disbelief and assume that it is okay that abigails, housekeepers, maids, and coachmen can walk all over Serena, the plot twists are becoming more and more ridiculous. See the seduction plot twist above - what kind of nonsense is this, proposing that one seduces a woman just to trap her into marriage so that she will see the light - or something - once she is married? And there're more subplots, all of them ridiculous because everything can be resolved if Kit and Serena actually talk. Yes, essentially True Pretenses is a Very Big Misunderstanding Story that is made worse as the author introduces increasingly more contrived reasons to keep the main characters from talking. Because Kit and Serena don't talk, there are two complicated back stories floating around for the most part of the book and my eyes start to cross as I try to keep everything straight.

Confusing, messy, and too reliant on Big Misunderstandings to the point that the main characters come off as pretty dim-witted, True Pretenses is a very excruciating book to read. Yes, the author seems to have a knack for comedy, if those very few scenes that don't give me a headache are anything to go by. But at the end of the day, True Pretenses is so convoluted that I can't help thinking that I should have just cut the Gordian knot that is this story by ditching it altogether for some aspirins.

Rating: 49


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