The Naked Marquis
by Sally MacKenzie, historical (2006)
Zebra, $4.99, ISBN 0-8217-7832-3


Oh my goodness, this book should have some kind of warning on the cover or in the back blurb. The Naked Marquis has a tired cliché for a premise, which won't be so bad really if that doesn't come with a huge amount of utterly ersatz unfettered cuteness. I'm talking about monster children who do simply the most nauseating things in order to be cute here, people, along with ridiculously cheery secondary characters. Unless you're the kind of person who enjoys watching reruns of Full House on TV and dreams of having daughters exactly like those monster children on that TV show, don't tell me I didn't warn you if you go ahead and read this book all the same.

Charles Draysmith (ex-soldier and all that predictable stuff that comes along with it) finds himself the new Marquis of Knightsdale after his brother thoughtfully croaks, leaving Charles to become guardian of two kids, nine-year old Isabelle and her younger sister Claire. Because Charles realizes that he has to become proper and all, he decides that he may as well skip the whole procedure of visiting London to find a wife and star in his own Avon historical romance by telling Emma Peterson, the vicar's daughter who had a crush on him when she was a teenager, to be his wife. Oh, and to be a good dear and take of the kids, of course. Emma is outraged at first but because the poor gals need a mother, she naturally has to accept the wedding proposal since she's such a selfless romance heroine in that manner. This leads to some post-marriage blues where she whines constantly whether he loves her while he moans that he wants to be free from responsibilities and what-not.

The romance is horrifically lop-sided in the sense that Emma is so ignorant that she may as well be a ten-year old girl. I mean, she doesn't even know whether she's pregnant and has to ask Charles to tell her if she is. She is constantly flummoxed, stammering, blushing, and more in his presence. To top it off, I'm supposed to believe that her childhood crush on him is the real thing - it never wavers, grows, changes, or develops. It is just what it is: true love from the start, according to Ms MacKenzie. Does the author realize how pathetic Emma come off as as a result? Poor Emma, she's such an ignorant bumpkin. Meanwhile, it is revealed that the monster children's mother is a monster because she doesn't want to spend her life on her back bringing children into this world, thus driving home the message that Emma may be as dumb as a funny cow but since she's willing to spend her life mothering and delivering babies, she's truly a woman we should all look up to.

Needless to say, I hardly find the romance interesting since I'm not one for relationships where the hero becomes both the father and the lover to the woman-child heroine. However, I'm actually terrified of the two children. From the moment they show up, they are these unnatural old women in children's bodies matchmaking our two main characters in the most disgusting manner. Claire from the start is wailing that she wants to call Emma and Charles her parents because she wants them to be her parents. Isabelle doesn't waste any opportunity to tell Emma that Charles will be a great father to her and her sister. My goodness, these two are supposed to be children. Are children ever this obsessed about the personal lives of adults? Isabelle and Claire are creepy and the way the author uses these two characters to bring on the cringe-inducing mawkishness is utterly terrifying. If I am not careful, I may start having nightmares about being locked up in a room with these two evil monster children.

The secondary characters serve two purpose in this story: being nauseatingly cute or browbeating poor Emma into marrying Charles. Nearly everyone that shows up here insists that Emma truly loves Charles, they can tell, because they are psychic or something, I suppose. This is one of those annoying stories where the household staff openly meddle in the lives of their employers or those of a higher station. This isn't a historical romance, it's some too-saccharine horror story masquerading as one.

The Naked Marquis has a flat romance driven by secondary characters screeching that the hero and the heroine are in love when these secondary characters are not trying their best to give me permanent goosebumps of the crept-out kind. The main characters are flat. There is no good story here, just scenes after scenes of unfettered over-the-top kiddies-gone-cute antics mixed with a flat romance that is propelled solely by the heroine's self-depreciating nature and clueless ignorance. Too much of this book is cuteness for the sake of cuteness, making the author come off like Debbie Macomber's out-of-control apprentice. The Naked Marquis is not a pretty sight to behold.

Rating: 43


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