by Cathy Maxwell, historical (1999)
Avon, $6.50, ISBN 0-380-80831-5
I don't think the author would appreciate me saying this, but this book reminds me a lot of Amanda Quick's Surrender. It doesn't help that Miss Maxwell has a wonderfully easy and fluid writing style slightly reminiscent of Miss Quick's. However, while Lucas of Surrender is a gem, Brenn Owen in this book... let me take a deep breath and try to restore my blood pressure to its normal level.
Unlike the wimpy, malleable heroines Miss Maxwell tends to write about, Tess Hamlin is nobody's fool. At first (but more on that later). She is a wonderful heroine, in fact. She is one of the richest heiress in London as well as one of its reigning beauties. Hence she can have her pick of men, but something is holding her back. Something seems missing in her life, and she has a vague notion it may be love. Since she is fabulously wealthy and has the luxury of time (despite creeping dangerously close to the age of 23), she is willing to flirt and wait for that something to come into her life. Hence, unattainable by men, she is dubbed the Ice Maiden.
I really love Tess like my daughter. She's glorious. The opening scene where she easily turns the tables on a jealous rival and incites the other women into a revolutionary wagering on men's folly is anything worthy of this side of Jane Austen. Utterly fabulous! I'm hooked right away from page one. Tess is strong, clear-headed, and intelligent, truly a memorable Regency heroine.
Oh, and then comes that spawn of a donkey's behind, Brenn Owen, the new Earl of Merton. Penniless, he needs money to rebuild his estates. Unless Lucas in Surrender who is upfront to Victoria about his need of her fortunes, this creep dangles sweet honeyed promises of togetherness forever and passion eternal in front of Tess. Tess, despite her sophistication, is a lonely woman vulnerable to such cheating-scum techniques.
Then Tess' brother drops the bomb on her: he has squandered all her money, and she is, in fact, penniless. He blackmails her emotionally, spinning a tale of life under public disgrace, et cetera, that Tess, fearful of her own security, and tempted by Brenn's false promises and songs of love, gratefully accepts Brenn's marriage proposal.
The lizard wants money, and she doesn't have any. Can you see the storm clouds gathering over the horizon? I have my lead umbrella ready for the Big Misunderstanding fallout I know will occur eventually.
Brenn's casual utterances of promises already branded him Grade A1 Creep in my book. Then he has to overhear two dumb servants gossiping about Tess' pregnant sister-in-law, and guess what? That smelly-stuff-for-brains thinks Tess is a free-for-all ho. This book almost become an impromptu frisbee. It becomes a frisbee when the author puts in the tried-and-tested plot device of virginity as proof of virtue. Rubbish!
My heart breaks for Tess. Reader of romantic books, daydreamer, Tess has no idea she is on her way to heartbreak. The scene where she realizes she was in love with Brenn is beautifully done, a glorious pinnacle of a slow building-up of realization that Brenn is a man truly worthy of her love. Or so she thinks. Then that petroleum spill scum discovers she is penniless and has the nerve to accuse her of plotting with her brother to snare him in marriage. The sound you hear is Brenn's screams as he is chased around his country home by an enraged old lady wielding a chainsaw with amazing agility belying her age.
The more things go down the drain, paradoxically the more Tess shines. This woman is wonderful. So that creep lied to her, eh? Fine! She throws that maggot-spawn out of her bedroom, sells off her silverware, and looks into the rebuilding of her new home. No point crying over spilled milk. She charms the servants, sees to the improvements, and in the process, she and the author make Brenn totally dispensable in the last third of the book. Believe me, this is the first book I read where the hero can be out of the picture for two chapters and I don't even miss him. In running the estates, Tess finds her calling. She, for the first time, feels a sense of purpose, that she is more than a doll on the Marriage Mart. For Tess, it is exhilarating to be useful and be needed by her new tenants.
How convenient that after the dear wife has hocked her precious silverware for money that he realizes, hey, he loves her after all. That after only a few days before when he callously mocks her desperate pleas to be loved even if a little in return of her love for him. Moronic illegitimate son. I still don't like him by the end. The only way I can finish this book with even a little vague feeling of satisfaction is this fantasy that Tess will henpeck that jackass-hind of a man for the rest of their marriage.
Cathy Maxwell is a talented author, I must admit. Even when Brenn is at his lowest, the writing is always fun, chuckle-inducing, and breezy. It's just too bad that Brenn Owen has to come in and ruin the whole thing. Where's a nice, noble Earl with a sense of humor when you need him?
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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