Ten Ways To Be Adored When Landing A Lord
by Sarah MacLean, historical (2010)
Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-185206-0
If historical romance clichés are sold in the supermarket, then Sarah MacLean must have bought every single one that was on sale before reaching home and stirring everything into the pot, hoping that something in Ten Ways To Be Adored When Landing A Lord will be halfway palatable.
Isabel Townsend is the long suffering daughter of the now late and unlamented "Wastrearl" who gambled everything and didn't show much affection for his son and daughter who were forced to live in Yorkshire while he cavorted in London. Not that Isabel wanted his affections - when the man had nothing left to gamble away, he'd use her as a wager, therefore leaving her to fend for herself against a series of blokes showing up at the door to claim her hand in marriage. All she wants is to give a good life to her younger brother. Now, if you are a lady of uncertain financial means who has a father determined to gamble away everything that is not nailed to the floor, what will you do? Isabel naturally goes ahead and runs a women's shelter in her home, with a dozen women at any time to feed along with her brother. Now that her father is dead and she realizes that she has no money, she is desperate because (a) remember, she wants to give her brother a good life and (b) she wants to continue feeding the women who are living in her house. Romance heroines, I tell you. You give them a billion dollars to spend and they will still end up ten billion dollars in debt a year later with nothing to show for their efforts.
Meanwhile, Nicholas St John is in a different kind of trouble. Pearls and Pelisses, the shoddy imitation of Julia Quinn's Lady Whistledown shtick, has compiled a list of London's most eligible aristocratic bachelors, and guess who is at the top of the list. Now poor Nick is hounded by women who want his autograph (really), affection, money, stud service, or all of the above. Because he is also a super secret agent type of fellow when he was in Turkey (don't ask), he is asked to track down a friend's missing sister. He arrives in Yorkshire, where he saves Isabel from being trampled by horses - she was walking along the street, too engrossed in reading to notice anything - and realizes that she is nothing like the women he has met during his travels around the world. I highly doubt that, given that we are talking about an inept self-sacrificing dingbat who has never left Yorkshire, but hey, perhaps Nick really means that he has never met any woman as stupid as Isabel.
And yes, Isabel is harboring the missing young lady. Despite knowing that Nick is acquainted with this young lady's brother, Isabel lets Nick linger around. You see, Nick conveniently happens to be an expert in historical relics, and what do you know, Isabel has in her possession some marble pieces that she needs to be authenticated. She needs to sell them, after all, to finance her quest to be the biggest martyr in the land. As you can imagine, Isabel is the only person who is shocked and betrayed when she realizes that Nick is in town to look for his friend's missing sister.
This story has so many clichés and what puzzles me here is how many of these clichés don't bear any relevance to the big plot. There is no reason for Nick to be this bulan creature, so he's just what he is in what seems like a concession to popular trends. Likewise, the marble statues are all dodgy and naughty, causing Isabel to pant heavily and lose all control when she's showing them to Nick. How some scoundrel hadn't deflowered her by now is a mystery since Isabel is, despite her protests, pretty fast and easy. Show her a banana and she'd probably introduce the one-woman donkey show concept to the good people of Yorkshire. The romance is predictable, the script is familiar, and the most "exciting" moment of this story is when Isabel comes close to being trampled to death by horses. It is not a good thing when I soon find myself wishing that the horses had succeeded, because anything would be more interesting that this story of Isabel playing the martyr and being praised and loved for it.
Martyrs in romance novels tend to be tedious, because it's easy to see that they are essentially selfish brats who ineptly aim for the greatest hardship in order to validate their pathetic existence. Here, the author has Isabel playing the martyr because, apparently, our darling will forget how unhappy she is when she's making everyone else happy. Still, if it quacks like one, I don't see why we shouldn't shoot it, and Isabel is a martyr through and through. She is not even a smart one. Her "friends", the parasites, er, women that she takes in, may play benevolent matchmakers at first, but it isn't long before they are actively telling her that she has to prostitute herself, I mean, "pursue" Nick, in order to save Minerva House. Isabel never once pauses to consider whether she should be badgered into bending over and taking it all in like that - she just rushes ahead. It's a good thing that Nick is a nice guy who finds her stupidity a virtue worthy of offering her his name, because I suspect it won't take much for Isabel to start pulling a Fantine to keep the parasites living in her house from actually having to fend for themselves.
All in all, Ten Ways To Be Adored When Landing A Lord is a completely unremarkable and formulaic by-the-numbers historical romance made memorable only by the dramatic extent of the heroine's stupidity and self-sacrificing tendency.
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