by Cathy Maxwell, historical (2007)
Avon, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-06-112180-7
There is a good story lost somewhere in the mess that is Bedding The Heiress. This book is a mess because it is not just full of clichés, but also because the author adds in a subplot about some sword that is the hope of Scotland - or something - that is never resolved here and serves only to tie up this book with the author's upcoming book. Normally I won't care too much about the clichés because Cathy Maxwell specializes in subverting clichés into her own. But here, things don't really pan out the way the author seems to intend them to.
This one is related to the author's previous book In The Bed Of A Duke but it's somewhat able to stand alone, given that the reader will most likely spend most of her time wondering what is happening in this book to care too much about what happened in the previous book, heh.
Francesca Dunroy, our heroine, has a problem. She thought that she was in for something wonderful with Lord Penthorpe only to learn too late - and barely escaping with her maidenhead intact as a result - that the man is only after her money. Her father is considered beyond the pale by the leading ladies of the Ton since he married a woman around the same age as Francesca within a month after the passing away of Francesca's mother. In the meantime, she has lost her mother's necklace during her not-so-charming getaway with Lord Penthorpe. Her father is expecting her to wear it, she's lost it, Lord Penthorpe has it, and he wants lots of money for its return.
Francesca encounters our hero Justin Maddox when she decides that the best way to deal with a man who nearly succeeded in raping her is to meet Lord Penthorpe, alone, in a quiet corner of her house during a party so that she can kiss him - just kiss him, of course - and persuade him to give her back her necklace. I know! How this crazy woman manages to live to her age is beyond me. I'd think she would have had a fatal accident with a chamber pot a long time ago. Fortunately for Francesca, she kissed the wrong man. Justin likes her and wants to boink her, but when he assumes that she's Lord Penthorpe's mistress, he removes her from the neat label of "Honeypot" in his mind to "Whore". His first wife, you see, ditched him for another man - what a whore - so his issues all pour forth. The thing is, after seeing how this man thinks and behaves, I actually find myself understanding why the first wife chose to run away.
The story moves deeper and deeper into a more convoluted mess that involves plenty of foolish behavior, half-assed and wrong judgments, and sex scenes thrown in to remind me that this is supposed to be a romance novel of quality.
Francesca Dunroy is not a likable heroine in my opinion, let's get this out of the way first. She remains selfish and self-absorbed from start to end, with her grand epiphany being something that boils down to: "You know what, I've realized it now: it really is all about me!" She has issues about her father marrying again so soon after the passing of her mother, but her issues are all about her. If you ask me, she's unhappy about things because she can't get people to adore her non-stop all day. I normally don't mind selfish heroines, but Francesca is selfish in a very exasperating manner. She does all kinds of stupid things because of her self-absorbed state and the things she learns, at the end of the day, make her even more self-absorbed in a "So, someone loves me, so I'm right all along, it really is all about me!" manner.
Justin is a standard lummox with Madonna/Whore issues with a bonus of irritating pro-Scotland and anti-England xenophobic tendencies. He naturally realizes that Francesca is not the whore of the millennium when he deflowers her and discovers that she is a virgin. The fact that she gave out to him with awe-inspiring speediness right after they first meet does not make her fast, loose, or easy in his mind, of course, because she is a virgin and is therefore very special.
Lost somewhere in this mess of annoying characters and obnoxious buffoonery is a good story. Ms Maxwell actually tries to flesh out Francesca and give her some coming-of-age story arc here. But the story is too short to accommodate a credible character study here. The author also introduces the bizarre Sword of the MacKenna that I am not going to even try to explain here because this subplot functions in this story merely as an excuse for some drama to happen in the last few pages and an excuse to tie this book with the upcoming book. Given how this subplot fades into the background for the most of the story, it may as well not be there at all, given how badly developed and poorly integrated into the story this subplot is.
The writing is also not up to the author's usual standards. She dumps information as if she is a garbage truck at a landfill most of the time and when she's not doing that, she is telling rather than showing too much. The writing has a sloppy and half-hearted feel to it. It really doesn't measure up to that in the author's older books.
Bedding The Heiress could have been a good story, but with sloppy writing, plenty of foolishness, and just poor execution all around, this book ends up being anything but that.
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