Compromised
by Kate Noble, historical (2008)
Berkley, $14.00, ISBN 978-0-425-21964-5


Usually when an author debuts in the romance genre with a trade paperback, I'd assume that the story is probably more... "literary", if you will, than its counterparts and everyone involved in the book feels that there is a more hoity-toity appeal to it. That or the story is an erotic romance, heh, but no, this book isn't an erotic romance. If I want to be cynical, I'd also suggest that it is probably because the author has a fabulous agent, she is sleeping with the right people, or her father owns the publishing house. I have no idea which of the above applies to Ms Noble, but I do find that this story is nothing too memorable. Maybe it's because of my expectations when it comes to such a debut, but I am disappointed that this story doesn't stand out in any particular way for me.

We have our hero, the Viscount Fontaine whose name is Maximilian, who is supposed to be the brainy kind of nerd when it comes to languages. He translates things for the government as a career because he and his father are not on speaking terms. Actually, Max detests the man and can barely remain civil in the man's company. Reconciliation is a long way from happening, though, as Max is now forced by his estranged father to marry within three months or get disowned by Daddy Dearest here. Max is smart enough to realize that he would rather enjoy the privileges that come with his title and social rank, so he gets down to the unpleasant business of choosing a bride. Naturally, all the debutantes are vapid, insipid, et cetera.

And then we have our feisty heroine, Gail Alton, who is supposed to be the plain one when compared to her sister Evangeline. Her family returned to London only recently and they now bank their hopes on Evangeline scoring a well-titled beau to cushion their entry into the more fashionably exclusive circles of the Ton. Gail is told to behave and not to ruin Evangeline's chances of contracting such a marriage by embarrassing them.

Max and Gail meet under less than pleasant circumstances when his horse goes out of control and Gail happens to be dragged into the chaos that results. It makes things more complicated - or amusing, depending on whom you ask - when Max decides to marry the fashionably beautiful Evangeline only to realize that Gail is Evangeline's younger sister. We have two characters who are determined that the other person is completely wrong for them, but these two twits will be falling in love eventually.

Compromised should not be dull because most of the characters have some refreshing little tweaks to them that make them a little different from the typical historical romance stereotypes out there. Max displays much of the traits of a typical arrogant male with a perpetual sneer on his face, but at the same time there is a nice nerd-like aspect of his personality. He's not exactly alpha or beta, more like a mix of two. In other words, he's a guy who knows how to assert himself when he has to, but he's not always in control of a situation as much as he'd like to believe. He's an interesting change from the usual blustering rake hero.

Gail... well, Ms Noble falls into the same trap that caught many authors attempting to create the perfect feisty historical romance heroine: she makes Gail come off more like a contemporary American woman transplanted into the Victorian era. Gail isn't too bratty or irritating, to give Ms Noble credit, but she doesn't stand out either as a memorable character compared to some of the other characters in this story. She is the most straightforward and predictable character in this story.

On the other hand, Ms Noble attempts to flesh out the various secondary characters from Max's father to Gail's stepmother so that these characters don't just become merely one-dimensional caricatures. I appreciate the author's effort. Therefore, I am really disappointed that I can't bring myself to enjoy this book better despite my best efforts.

You see, the writing is a bit on a clunky side. Even after I lowered my expectations of a literary-style historical fiction after a few pages of this story (this is more of a historical romp that is a mix of comedy and some drama), I find that Ms Noble tends to tell more than she shows. Instead of slowly revealing various aspects of her characters' nuanced personalities, for example, she will reveal to me as soon as the characters are introduced in the story that these characters are really what they seem to be. A case in point is Max's father. Ms Noble is like a bad card player in this case. She tends to show her hand too early, thus depriving me, her reader, of the pleasure of slowly learning more about her characters as the story develops. Because Ms Noble tends to tell more than she shows, the characters end up being more like laundry lists of personality traits rather than complex human beings with flaws and weaknesses.

The story and the characters are fine, it's just that at the end of the day Compromised is rough enough around the edges to prevent me from fully appreciating it. Maybe the author would have smoothed out things by the next book, who knows? But for now, this one just doesn't stand out in any way to me as a remarkable debut. It is a promising one, but the promises have yet to be delivered in a manner that I find satisfactory.

Rating: 72


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